by Ben Taylor

Zika rumours and denials
The Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, the Elderly and Children, Ms Ummy Mwalimu, held a hastily-arranged news conference in mid-December to reassure the public that there was no outbreak of the Zika virus in the country. “Tanzania has no Zika patient,” she said.

The statement came just a day after the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) released study findings showing that 87 of the 533 people whose blood samples were tested had Zika virus.

“NIMR just reported findings of a [pilot] study on efficiency of a new research device for Zika and Chikungunya viruses,” explained the Minister.

Dr Malecela, the Director General of NIMR, who had earlier issued the report that caused anxiety, accused the media of reporting the matter “inaccurately”. “The findings only showed that there were strains of Zika virus in samples drawn from people in eight regions. There is no Zika patient,” she said. This explanation was deemed insufficient to save her position, however, as she was fired hours later.

Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Kigwangalla, directed NIMR to follow proper channels whenever making sensitive findings to public. “The government has the mandate of announcing the occurrence of any infectious disease. We are aware of the efforts made by the research institutions that focus on complimenting the government commitment to end communicable diseases,” he noted.

An outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil and elsewhere in South America attracted widespread public attention earlier in 2016. Most cases have no symptoms, but when present they are usually mild and can resemble dengue fever. However, mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy can cause microcephaly and other brain malformations in some babies. The virus is spread by mosquitoes, making mosquito avoidance an important element to disease control. There is no vaccine or treatment currently available. (The Citizen, Daily News)

Drug shortages and debts
The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare took steps to reassure the public that the government would ensure supplies of essential medicines would be maintained, after Sikika, a health-focussed NGO, revealed spending on drugs was well below the budgeted amount.

“These reports (of a medicine crisis) are false and they are aimed as causing members of the public to panic,” Minister Ummy Mwalimu told a news conference. “I would like to assure you that the fifth phase government places utmost priority on health.”

The minister said MSD has the drugs for all the top 10 common diseases in the country, citing malaria, tuberculosis, cough infections, leprosy, polio and antiretrovirals (ARVs). However, she said the government would reform several aspects of the drug supply chain to address supply problems.

The health budget for the current financial year is substantially higher than in previous years, primarily in order to clear a large outstanding debt with the Medical Stores Department (MSD). MSD revealed earlier in the year that the government owed them a total of TSh 145bn, and the Ministry has budgeted to clear the bulk of this debt during 2016/17.
(Daily News, The Citizen)

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