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[DAR-ES-SALAAM]  The World Health Organization (WHO) has disputed Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli’s claim that COVID-19 test kits being used in his country are contaminated and unreliable.
 
Earlier this month, Magufuli said swabs from a live goat, a quail and a fruit had returned positive results for COVID-19, after agents secretly sent them to the country’s National Health Laboratory Quality Assurance and Training Centre to be tested. 
  
The country’s President has ordered a criminal investigation into the tests, suggesting “sabotage from imperialists” could be at play.

“We do not share the point of view that these commodities [COVID-19 test kits] could be in circulation when they are already contaminated.”

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Africa

But Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization (WHO) regional director for Africa, disagrees that the internationally approved kits have problems.  
 
“We do not share the point of view that these commodities [COVID-19 test kits] could be in circulation when they are already contaminated with the virus,” said Moeti, during a webinar with the press this month (7 May). “We are not in agreement with that point of view.”  
 

Credit: WHO
 
Last month (22 April), Magufuli also accused the health ministry of fuelling panic by releasing new COVID-19 figures. Since then, updates on Tanzania’s COVID-19 cases have been hard to come by.
 
Ummy Mwalimu, the country’s Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, said the release of updates would resume after rehabilitation of the National Health Laboratory Quality Assurance and Training Centre, whose director, Nyambura Moremi, is on suspension pending the investigation, following Magufuli’s swipe at the lab’s tests.
 
Reliable data is critical if the country is to tackle the virus, scientists say.
 
“Reliable data is central to the intervention strategies designed to deal with the pandemic, but it also helps a country to learn lessons,” says Frank Minja, a Tanzanian doctor and an associate professor of neuroradiology in the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at the Yale School of Medicine in the United States. Minja tells SciDev.Net: “If there isn’t reliable data, it means that the true burden of the problem will not be established. It’s also difficult to draw lessons that could help the country fight future pandemics.  
 
“I would suggest that the President directs efforts to domestic production of the kits or even borrow a leaf from Senegal where researchers are developing a test kit prototype estimated to cost US$1 per kit.”
 
As of yesterday (18 May), Tanzania had recorded 509 cases of COVID-19, with 21 deaths, according to the WHO’s situational update on the pandemic, the same numbers reported on 8 May.
 
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

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