Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu’s 65-day ordeal over Covid-19

Friday May 22 2020


By Louis Kolumbia

Dar es Salaam. Tanzania's Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu could breathe a sigh of relief as the government steadily backpedals on Covid-19 in favour of fully-fledged resumption of most socio-economic activities hampered by the war against the coronavirus pandemic.
Ms Mwalimu has for over two months now carried the government’s face in its strategy to combat the disease but also bore the brunt of those who were dissat-isfied with the manner in which authorities responded.
The minister held countless press conferences and meetings with experts, development partners and other interest groups as the country rallied efforts to address the pandemic which saw a rise in numbers of patients as well as deaths.
 She was staring at a crisis which experts warned could overrun the fragile health care system if the Covid-19 infections curve was not flattened quickly.
 Fast forward yesterday, Ms Mwalimu sat pensively at State House, in Dodoma, listening to accolades poured on her by President John Magufuli.
 The President said the health minister had demonstrated exemplary service in leading the fight at a difficult time.
“I commend you Ummy. I’m sorry because I know how I have stressed you, including by calling you eight times a day…sometimes at 2am. This is a war in which we can’t pet anyone,” said President Magufuli, noting that the minister stood firm despite not being a professional medic.
The Head of State suggested he sacked Ms Mwalimu’s deputy Faustine Ndungulile for not showing the same vigour.
Others removed during the period were health PS, Dr Zainab Chaula, chief medical officer, Prof Mohamed Kambi, the Medical Stores Department director general Laurean Bwanakunu the National Community Health Laboratory boss, Dr Nyambura Moremi, and the quality assurance manager Jacob Lusekelo.
For the first time, Ms Mwalimu publicly shared her worries and told of sleepless nights as she fought fears over the coronavirus.
That worry was now behind her, she declared. She said fear, and not sickness or death was what afflict-ed the public.
The minister revealed that at one time as cases rose, it was decided that the Dar es Salaam International Trade Fair (DITF) grounds be used to establish a facility to accommodate 1,000 Covid-19 patients.
She said the last few weeks have been the toughest for her as a cabinet member. She learnt a lot, she said.
“Importantly, I’ve learnt to fight fear. This is because most Tanzanians were not suffering from the coronavirus, rather they were suffering from fear,” she said .
Tanzania has come under criticism in international circles for taking a different route in dealing with the pandemic, with President Magufuli throwing a spanner into the works when he questioned the veracity of Covid-19 test results and ordered an investigation which saw the country stop issuing tallies of Covid-19 patients or related deaths.
Yesterday, the President ordered higher learning institutions and sporting activities to resume on June 1, as he declared that the number of patients had drastically gone down. He said all schools could be re-opened soon.
 He directed the ministries of Education and Finance to ensure smooth resumption of learning.
He advised that a crash programme be held for Form Six national examination candidates. Dr Magu-fuli, however, advised the public to continue observing measures prescribed to limit infections.
Ms Mwalimu also applauded the President and said the Tanzanian situation was better due to his commitment.
 “Some people say they could not see you but you were always there for me. You gave me guidance time and again. In short, this has been the most challenging part of my time as a minister.”
She said apart from con-trolling transmission, the ministry was now emphasising on improving treatment of major diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis but also improve maternal services because “Tanzanians can’t wait for elimination of Covid-19.”