Delta variant surges in Tanzania

President Samia Suluhu Hassan

THE rapid spread of the more-transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus is extremely serious and surging across Tanzania, the East African country that once denied the existence of COVID-19.

In late April last year- 2020, the then president, John Magufuli, ordered the government to stop issuing Coronavirus statistics on the grounds that “after three days of national prayers, God had rid the country of the virus. Almost a year later, the denialist president  succumbed to the same coronavirus on March 17, 2021.

Two-month investigations by SAUTI KUBWA has revealed that Tanzania is among the highest hit country by COVID-19 as evidently shown by the number of patients admitted at major hospitals in the economic capital, Dar es Salaam and the record of death around the city and other upcountry regions; Mwanza, Kilimanjaro and Arusha.

Over the course of weeks, SAUTI KUBWA visited four of the biggest hospitals in Dar es Salaam; there were 29 COVID-19 patients at the Aga Khan Hospital; 17 at Hindu Mandal Hospital; and 27 at Rabininsia Hospital. And 31 at national hospital – Muhimbili.

Hospital beds in these major hospitals in the intensive care units are full of patients on oxygen – while other hospitals like KCMC in Moshi, Kilimanjaro and Bugando in Mwanza, were out of oxygen cylinders for weeks until recently when more life-saving-air were brought. Ikonda Hospital in Njombe is also overwhelmed by patients.

“Things are getting worse here, we are in the grip of a shocking wave that by all indications seems like it will be out of control and I think is now high time the government should take more steps to curb the alarming rate of infections,” said a doctor at Muhimbili hospital, who preferred anonymity.

Off the record, more doctors repeated the same refrain: COVID-19 infections are in high rise in Tanzania, and it is silently killing people at an alarming rate.

When asked for comment, the Deputy Minister for Health, Dr. Godwin Mollel said that the reports of patients requiring oxygen in hospitals do not necessarily prove the presence of COVID-19. “Not everyone with respiratory system challenges or being on oxygen has Coronavirus,” he said.

Dr. Mollel who now admits the exitance of the virus, asked SAUTI KUBWA to encourage people to take precautions against COVID-19 which he said its spread is preventable by wearing masks, not shaking hands, washing hands regularly and avoiding huge gatherings.

Apart from hospital beds, SAUTI KUBWA has visited three major grave yards in Dar es Salaam and found more new graves being in place. More tombstones showed a huge number of deaths befallen between April and June, this year – 2021.

Mzee Kondo, a caretaker of Kondo cemetery in Ununio area, Dar es Salaam old SAUTI KUBWA that the number of burial activities rose sharply in recent months.

He said he used to allocate a space or two in a week, but since the outbreak of “this third wave” he slots five to seven more spaces.

“I have not experienced a high number of burial practices here as of now, more people are buried, I am afraid we are going to close this cemetery as it will be out of space,” the old man of 67 years worried. Part of Kondo cemetery was set for burial of COVID-19 victims since the outbreak of the virus.

SAUTI KUBWA can reveal another indication of the magnitude of the pandemic by exposing the number of mini buses transporting dead bodies to Kilimanjaro, a region located in the north-eastern part of Tanzania and borders with Kenya to the north, where Chagga tribe usually bury their loved ones in their own land regardless where they lost their last breath.

In three days – on August 13, 14 and 15, 2021 our reporter in Mombo District, witnessed 51 mini buses carrying dead bodies being transported to different parts of Kilimanjaro for burial, the record that was described by onlookers as “highest” in recent times since the outbreak of the pandemic.

The speed of the takeover of the Delta variant, which was first identified in India and is forcing governments around the globe to tighten restrictions on social and economic activities, has shocked health experts in Africa, a continent that—in part thanks to its younger population—has recorded fewer Covid-19 deaths than other regions.

When the scale of the pandemic became apparent, most leaders on the continent turned to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization for help. But President John Magufuli called on an even higher authority: God. He claims the virus was eliminated after three days of national prayer in June 2020.

After Magufuli’s death, the new administration under President Samia Suluhu Hassan has turned the table, now the government has started issuing statistics and accepted a country wide vaccination.