As regional governments move to enhance Ebola surveillance through screening of people at border crossings with Tanzania, the government in Dar es Salaam now says it “suspects there is a conspiracy at international level to spread negative information about Tanzania in the face of an ongoing conflict with the WHO over how a recent potential Ebola case in the country was dealt with.”
Kenya has deployed a mobile laboratory at the common Namanga border crossing with Tanzania and at the same time the Ministry of Health’s acting director general Dr Wekesa Masasabi saying there is no cause for alarm.
Dr Masasabi also said that Kenya is in constant communication with Tanzania, but “has enhanced screening at the points of entry along the entire border as well to confirm any suspected case.”
Uganda’s Health minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng said on Wednesday that one of the country’s ongoing preparedness involves deploying health workers at the border with Tanzania.
“There is already fatigue in response management from the health workers and communities. So, we shall deploy our health workers as part of our preparedness plan,” she said.
Dr Aceng says since the reported cases of at least five Ugandans dying of ebola in the border district of Kasese, the country continues to be vigilant in screening and isolating suspected cases.
She added that Uganda has been on the alert to deal with cases of the disease since August 2018 when an outbreak was first registered in the DR Congo.
Rwanda too has deployed an Ebola screening rapid response team at Rusumo at the border post with Tanzania.
Speaking to our sister publication Rwanda Today, Dr José Nyamusore, the country’s head of division epidemiology and surveillance response, said they have already started training doctors and nurses in Rusumo, Kirehe, Kabarondo, and Kayonza.
“We did not consider the Tanzanian border with Rwanda a high-risk zone but after the recent suspected Ebola case in Dar es Salaam, we have deployed specialists and offering training in the area,” said Dr Nyamusore.
The reaction in Dar es Salaam has remained as firm as it was a fortnight ago when the suspected Ebola case was reported.
Minister for Health, Ummy Mwalimu said on Thursday the government reassures the international community that it is aware of the dangers and implications not sharing information.
Ms Mwalimu also played down reports of heightened Ebola surveillance by neighbouring countries along the borders with Tanzania.
“We don’t know why our neighbours are doing what they are doing, but instead of continuing with the mistrust, I urge them to join forces with us and we share our contingency plans because there are more than 300 borders crossings where there are several movements of people.”
The ministry’s deputy spokesperson Catherine Sugura and director of preventive services Dr Leonard Subi weighed in by saying that Tanzania too has frontline health workers conducting Ebola screening at its borders.
Ms Mwalimu added: “According to the laboratory protocols of WHO, when the samples test negative, there is no need to take them to a reference laboratory. Only if 25 samples test positive, that is when you are supposed to forward them.”
The growing mistrust comes at a time when both the US and British governments have issued travel advisories for Tanzania and calling for increased caution.
The US State Department and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have updated travel advisory for those visiting Tanzania, further calling upon the government to comply with its obligation under the International Health Regulations.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office website highlighted a WHO investigation into suspected Ebola in Tanzania and warns travellers to “keep up to date with developments.”
WHO communications officer Tarik Jasarevic told The EastAfrican that the organisation still advises against applying any restrictions on travel or trade to and with Tanzania on the basis of currently available information on the Ebola matter.
“As per WHO guidance, we recommend sharing samples (including negative ones) with a reference laboratory. We stand by to offer our support no matter what health issues Tanzania is facing,” said Mr Jasarevic.
—Rosemary Mirembe in Tanzania, Evelyn Lirri in Uganda, Arafat Mugabo in Kigali and Nasibo Kabale in Nairobi.