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Tanzania President claims goat and papaya samples tested positive for coronavirus, suspends national lab head for ‘faulty testing’

Earlier, the President had asked Tanzanians to 'pray' the Chinese coronavirus away.

Tanzania President John Magufuli suspended the country’s national lab head after goat and papaya (fruit) samples tested positive for coronavirus. He alleged that the testing was faulty for COVID-19. On May 3, the President of Tanzania, John Magufuli, had claimed reportedly that the imported Coronavirus test kits were faulty and unreliable.

Earlier, the President had asked Tanzanians to ‘pray’ the Chinese coronavirus away. Magufuli had then instructed the security forces to check the coronavirus kits wherein random non-human samples were collected and tested. These samples included goat, papaya, car oil and other things. The lab technicians were deliberately not informed about the origins of the samples. Hence, when the goat and the papaya samples tested positive, the Tanzanian President said that this would mean that some of those humans who have tested positive for coronavirus, may not really have been infected.

According to Magufuli, the car oil sample was named as ‘Jabil Hamza’, 30-year-old male and ‘his’ test came back negative. Jackfruit sample nicknamed 45-year-old Sarah Samuel tested ‘unconclusive’ for coronavirus. Papaya sample was codenamed 26-year-old ‘Elizabeth Ane’ tested ‘positive’ for coronavirus. A sample from a kware bird and a goat tested positive too while a sheep tested negative. “This way all papayas and goats should also be in isolation,” the President said.

Tanzania cracks down on health officials

After the non-human samples tested positive for coronavirus, the Tanzanian Government had decided to sack the laboratory director and the quality assurance manager to constitute a 10-person committee that would investigate the matter. This was informed by the acting head of communications at the Health Ministry, Catherine Sungura. The Head of the Government Medical Stores Department was also suspended but no reason was cited.

Madagascar herbal drink

According to a report by the fact-checking website Snopes, the viral video is a part of a televised remark made on May 3 about Magufuli’s plans to import a herbal drink from Madagascar which he believes to be the cure for the deadly pandemic. The President has been firm in his resolve despite no evidence that can prove the efficacy of such a tonic.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), scientists, and other public health officials have cautioned people against self-medicating on unproven remedies of the Chinese virus. They have recommended social distancing instead as a means to avoid exposure to the deadly pathogen.

They are concerned that the Madagascar health drink may provide resistance against the drug. The National Academy of Medicine of Madagascar has clarified on April 20, “It is a drug whose scientific evidence has not yet been established, and which risks damaging the health of the population, in particular, that of children.”

In the viral video, the President also cast aspersions about the credibility of national laboratories, besides alleging mishandling of samples and exaggerated positive results. After claiming that goat samples had tested positive for the Chinese virus, Magufuli said, “That means there is a possibility for technical errors or these imported reagents have issues.”

Politics at play

Reportedly, the claims made by Magufuli was a means to distract his countrymen from the apparent mishandling of the pandemic. The President of Tanzania has also come under fierce criticism for not announcing lockdown in the country and encouraging people to congregate in places of worship instead.

A leader from the Opposition has also defended the national laboratory. John Nkengasong, President of CDA (Africa) told Reuters that the tests in Tanzania are working well. The truth behind Magafuli’s assertions could not be substantiated by Snopes as no evidence exists besides his own ‘testimony.’

Repercussions

A reader from Tanzania wrote to Snopes alleging that the claims made by the country’s President have created confusion amongst his friends and family. I’m afraid that people might actually refuse to test/avoid being tested out of fear of getting infected, he said.

Tanzania, in contrast to other African countries, does not provide regular updates about the number of Coronavirus cases in the country. However, as per data website worldometers, as of May 11, the country has reported 509 live cases of the Chinese virus, besides 21 deaths. In general, Africa has a fewer number of cases, perhaps due to low testing rates (500 tests per million people).

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Staff reporter at OpIndia

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