In a statement on Saturday, the World Health Organization (WHO) accused the government of Tanzania of deliberately withholding information about suspected cases of Ebola virus disease, the Washington Post reported. The allegation follows reports of multiple cases throughout the nation, beginning in the capital city of Dar es Salaam, after which WHO said it was shut out from blood tests and informed by Tanzanian officials that the Ebola virus had been ruled out.
According to WHO, Tanzanian officials have not offered alternative diagnoses for the cases. However, it has received “unofficial reports” that a 34 year old doctor returning from Uganda who died on Sept. 8 in Dar es Salaam tested positive for Ebola, while a second person tested negative. The status of a third possible case is unclear, the Post wrote, and the WHO statement is the “most pointed rebuke toward any government yet” in dealing with an ongoing outbreak that began in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo last year.
“... Clinical data, results of the investigations, possible contacts and potential laboratory tests performed for differential diagnosis of those patients have not been communicated to WHO,” the agency wrote in the statement. “This information is required for WHO to be able to fully assess of the potential risk posed by this event.”
“The limited available official information from Tanzanian authorities represents a challenge for assessing the risk posed by this event,” WHO added.
As the Post noted, Tanzania has never before reported any cases of Ebola, and its heavily tourism dependent economy could suffer if the virus is confirmed to have spread there. The ongoing outbreak in the DRC began in August 2018 has involved over 3,000 reported cases and resulted in over 2,100 deaths, but has largely been contained within two provinces and is now being fought with newer, more advanced drugs. However, WHO officials have “pursued potential cases in the outbreak that [have] traveled as far as Dubai and China,” according to the Post.
On Sept. 14, according to Al Jazeera, Tanzanian Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu said that the government had investigate two cases and found that the “patients did not have Ebola. There is no Ebola outbreak in Tanzania as we speak, people should not panic.” However, the network noted that Mwalimu did not clarify whether those two cases included the deceased doctor.
WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told Al Jazeera that WHO is ready to assist if an outbreak is confirmed in Tanzania and is “standing by to facilitate the delivery of various supplies, including vaccines and therapeutics—this will occur upon request by the government.” Jasarevic added that WHO was “continuing to work” with pharmaceutical giant Merck and researchers to increase the availability of Ebola vaccines, Al Jazeera wrote, but that there is “sufficient supply” to deal with any incident in Tanzania.