Tanzania obstructed HIV fight, now rejects Covid-19 vaccines

The same government that shut down anti-HIV programs in Tanzania out of fear of homosexuality has come out against Covid-19 vaccines for fear that such Western innovations are unsafe.

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Tanzanian President John Magufuli claims that vaccines are dangerous and that praying and inhaling steam offer better protection against Covid-19. (Photo courtesy of CGTN Africa)
Tanzanian President John Magufuli claims that vaccines are dangerous and that praying and inhaling steam offer better protection against Covid-19. (Photo courtesy of CGTN Africa)

Tanzania’s health minister has declared that Covid-19 vaccines developed in the West have no place in Tanzania. Instead, she recommends that Tanzanians combat the virus by drinking a beverage flavored with ginger, garlic, lemon and pepper.

Similarly, Tanzanian President John Magufuli claimed last month, without evidence, that Covid-19 vaccines could be harmful. He alleged that people who had been vaccinated abroad brought Covid-19 with them when they returned to Tanzania.

Officials’ obstruction of efforts to combat Covid-19 are similar to the Tanzanian government’s obstruction of programs fighting a different virus — HIV — in 2017.

An anti-gay campaign that Magufuli launched in 2016 led to the closure in February 2017 of 40 privately run health centers that provided AIDS-related services.

Next came the arrests in September 2017 of 20 people at an HIV/AIDS training session.

Now Magufuli and other Tanzanian officials are clearing the way for the spread of Covid-19.

As the Washington Post reports:

Tanzania ‘has no plans’ for vaccines, minister says

Tanzania has no plans to accept coronavirus vaccines and will rely instead on herbal remedies and improved hygiene to fight infections, the country’s health minister said this week.

Dorothy Gwajima, health minister of Tanzania. (Photo courtesy of the Daily News of Tanzania)

The comments by Dorothy Gwajima follow the president’s evidence-free assertion last month that vaccines could be harmful to the population. Tanzanian leader John Magufuli has consistently downplayed the pandemic and his government stopped publishing case counts in May.

Speaking to reporters in the capital, Dodoma, on Monday, Gwajima, who was not wearing a mask, said that her ministry “has no plans to receive vaccines for covid-19.”

She said that the government has its own protocol for importing medicine and other medical supplies, which it will implement when it is sure that the products are safe — even as Western-made coronavirus vaccines began arriving elsewhere on the African continent.

Location of Tanzania in East Africa.
Location of Tanzania in East Africa.

Instead, Gwajima said, Tanzanians should wash their hands, exercise and eat nutritious food. Then, along with two aides, the health minister prepared and drank a concoction of ginger, garlic, lemon and pepper — a remedy she said, without evidence, would help fight the virus.

World Health Organization officials have publicly pushed back against the Tanzanian leadership, urging the government to ramp up health measures and prepare for the vaccine.

“We particularly encourage the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania to prepare for the vaccine, to put in place the preventive measures to protect their population and to share data on the covid-19 situation,” the WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said last week.

“Science shows that #VaccinesWork,” Moeti said later in a tweet directed at Tanzanian leaders. “I encourage the government to prepare for a COVID vaccination campaign.”

The extent of the outbreak in Tanzania is unclear. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the East African nation listed as Level 4, the highest on its scale warning travelers of covid-19 risks.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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