Tanzania: From Pandemic Pariah to COVID-19 Leading Light

The emergence of Tanzania among the best performing African countries in COVID-19 vaccine coverage marks the complete overhaul of one of the most controversial policies of the now-late president, John Magufuli. Under Magufuli, the issue of the pandemic was taboo. He promoted COVID-19 misinformation and misinformation related to vaccination during the pandemic in Tanzania.

Authorities stopped reporting case numbers in May 2020 after Magufuli alleged that the national laboratory was returning false positives. The following month, he declared that God had eliminated COVID-19 and had been “eliminated by God” as the government stopped publishing data on the spread of the disease in the country. The President described vaccines as “dangerous.”

Tanzania President, Samia Suluhu Hassan. Image by stock file

He lampooned the use of protective measures such as wearing masks. By the time he passed on from a heart ailment (suspected to be a result of COVID-19) in March 2021, Magufuli had dismissed the director of the national laboratory and suspended the head of testing, the distribution of non-governmental information on the spread of the virus had become illegal.

His government had introduced regulations to outlaw the publication of “information with regards to the outbreak of a deadly or contagious disease in the country or elsewhere without the approval of the respective authorities.” “Offenders” were liable to fines. His deputy, Samia Suluhu Hassan, succeeded Magufuli and immediately sought to obliterate the controversial policies of the deceased, who ran
the East African country with an iron fist. The COVID-19 was one of the policies. Other Suluhu’s administration changes included the barring of pregnant pupils, closure of media, including those that were pro-government and barring political gatherings.

This week as the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced Tanzania as the best performer among 34 countries that were below 10 percent of target population by January 2022 when WHO and partners launched the COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Partnership (CoVDP) o advocate for the urgency in turning vaccine doses into vaccinated, protected communities that had low performance.

Covid-19, which also involves the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, supported the countries to overcome bottlenecks to vaccination.

From a poor coverage of 2,8 percent of the total population that time, Tanzania recorded an exponential increase to 51 percent as at April 2023. As of February 2023, over 32 million people have been fully vaccinated in Tanzania, which translates to about 45 percent of the total population and 87 percent of the target population above 18 years.

More than 38,9 million vaccine doses have been received in the mainland and Zanzibar through bilateral agreement and the COVAX facility and a total of more than 90 percent doses have been distributed to regions.

Consistent political buy-in, cross-sectoral collaboration and involvement of implementing partners to expand reach and services beyond immunisation teams and enable targeted approach towards priority groups are identified as enablers of this exponential increase during the period under review.

“The rapid increase in COVID-19 vaccination is a consequence of heightened political commitment at the national, regional and district levels,” Dr Zabulon Yoti, WHO representative for Tanzania, said. Yoti said service delivery through house-to-house strategy made COVID-19 vaccines readily available at zero cost, acceptable and affordable to beneficiaries.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) focused on vaccinating people at highest risk for getting sick due to COVID-19, including people with HIV, staff in healthcare facilities and community
workers. “Sometimes addressing the barrier to vaccination was as simple as having a sign that says ‘COVID-19 vaccines here’,” Mahesh Swaminathan, CDC Tanzania Country Director, explained.

The first case of COVID-19 in Tanzania was registered on March 16, 2020. Officially, Tanzania has recorded 42 973 COVID-19 cases and 846 deaths but the toll is apparently higher as months went without testing or the publication figures with Magufuli at the helm.

– CAJ News



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