Tanzania govt defuses Ebola scare as doctor dies in Dar es Salaam

Sunday September 15 2019

Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Ms Ummy Mwalimu speaks during a press conference in Dar es Salaam yesterday. Left is her Deputy, Dr Faustine Ndugulile and the Chief Medical Officer, Prof Muhammad Kambi (right). PHOTO | SAID KHAMIS

Dar es Salaam. The government yesterday allayed fears over reports that a Tanzanian medical doctor who was studying in Uganda had died of a viral infection akeen to the deadly Ebola disease.

Health minister Ummy Mwalimu termed the reports which say six other people had developed Ebola-like symptoms as rumours. But she told journalists that there were two cases of people from Mwanza and Dar es Salaam who had been suspected to have contracted the Ebola virus.

“We took samples of those two cases and I can confirm that the patients were not infected with the Ebola virus,’’ said Ms Mwalimu at a press conference, emphasising that she was the only authority mandated to announce an outbreak of diseases such as Ebola and other life-threatening epidemics.

The minister’s assurance came a day after the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was investigating, “as a matter of urgency”, a ‘rumour’ of death from an unknown illness in Tanzania. Some embassies also issued alerts over the WHO warning.

There is heightened vigilance across East Africa over Ebola due to an outbreak of the viral disease in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and a reported case in Western Uganda at the border with the DRC.

DRC is grappling with the world’s second largest Ebola epidemic on record, with more than 2500 lives lost and 3000 confirmed infections since the outbreak was announced on August 1, 2018.


The outbreak is occurring in North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri provinces. The deadliest outbreak occurred between 2014 to 2016 in West Africa, with a total of 28,616 cases of Ebola and 11,310 deaths reported in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone alone.

Countries neighbouring DRC including Tanzania, are taking steps to mitigate the risk of spread. Ebola is known to spread from country to country via cross border activities.

“I urge the public to take precautions. We have enhanced screening for suspected cases at key border areas with Uganda and DRC and ports,” said Ms Mwalimu in Dar es Salaam.

A WHO document which The Citizen learnt had been leaked, detailed a case of a 34 year old Tanzanian woman studying in Uganda who had travelled between Mwanza, Dar es Salaam, Mtwara and Songea regions.

She later died, on September 8, in Dar es Salaam where she had been brought back for treatment and her burial was supervised a team of public health workers from the Temeke District, according to the report.

On 28 August, 2019, she developed headache, fever, rash, bloody diarrhoea, reveals the report. “……following a suspicion of viral haemorrhagic fever, she was transferred to an isolation unit in another referral hospital -Temeke Ebola Treatment Unit- for further management, and samples were collected. On 8 September 2019, the patient died, and a supervised burial was performed on the same day,’’ said the report.

On Friday, the WHO officially said in a press statement that it had deployed a technical team in Tanzania to cooperate with the health ministry in investigating a death but did not specifically point to the case in the leaked document.

Reuters quoted the Director for Communication and Policy at the Nairobi office of the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Mr Justin Williams, who said the woman who died in Dar es Salaam on September 8 presented symptoms common to several diseases, including dengue or malaria, both endemic in East Africa. He ruled out the possibility of Ebola.

Until yesterday, the medical community in Tanzania was mourning the death of a medical doctor who was studying at Makerere University. She was a medical staff of Bugando Medical Centre in Mwanza.

She travelled back to Tanzania from Uganda through Mwanza, to Dar es Salaam, then Songea where she was carrying out her field work for post-graduate studies. She died in Temeke on September 8 and her burial was immediate and supervised by the health authorities, said sources close to The Citizen.

The President of the Medical Association of Tanzania (Mat), Dr Elisha Osati, told The Citizen the death of their colleague has left a lot of questions. He urged health workers across the country to remain vigilant as they handle their patients and take all necessary precautions.

“Until now, we don’t really know what led to her death, but what I can say is that all medical staff should remain cautious as they go about treating their patients,” he said.

However, the manner in which the medic died and was buried is not new in Tanzania. In 2016, The Citizen witnessed health workers at Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH), wearing personal protective gear aboard a special vehicle carrying two caskets bearing the bodies of the deceased, headed for burial in Kinondoni.

Authorities said the patients had been diagnosed with Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Syndrome which includes a class of diseases like Severe Dengue Fever, Ebola and Zika fever. But, Ebola was ruled out after the deceased tested negative for the virus.