NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Tanzania on Thursday rejected suspicions that it might have covered up cases of the deadly Ebola virus, calling it a plot to show the country “in a bad light.”
The health minister’s comments came after the World Health Organization issued an unusual statement saying Tanzania refused to share information and the United States and Britain issued travel warnings. The current Ebola outbreak based in neighboring eastern Congo is now the second-deadliest in history with more than 2,000 people killed.
Tanzanian Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu said there were two suspected Ebola cases last month but the East African country determined they did not have the virus.
“Ebola is not a disease one can hide,” the minister said. “Tanzania is well aware of the dangers of hiding such an epidemic.”
Global health officials had repeatedly asked Tanzania to share the results of its investigations, but Mwalimu asserted there is no need to submit a “negative sample” for further testing.
Countries with little or no experience testing for Ebola, especially ones such as Tanzania which have never had a confirmed Ebola case, are asked to send samples to a WHO-accredited lab to confirm the initial results, no matter whether they are positive or negative.
Tanzania’s health minister said the country will follow international protocols, including reporting to WHO, “if there is an Ebola case.”
WHO has said it was made aware on Sept. 10 of the death in Tanzania’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, of a patient suspected to have Ebola. A day later, it received unofficial reports that an Ebola test had come back positive. On Thursday, it received unofficial reports that a contact of the patient, who had traveled widely in the country, was sick and hospitalized.
The lack of information from Tanzania made it difficult to assess potential risks, WHO said.
A rapid response is crucial in containing Ebola, which can be fatal in up to 90% of cases and is most often spread by close contact with bodily fluids of people exhibiting symptoms or with contaminated objects.
The initial symptoms for Ebola, including fever and pain, are similar to those of other diseases such as malaria and measles, and mistakes in diagnosis and mismanagement of patients could inadvertently allow an outbreak to spread.
Critics have shown increasing alarm as Tanzanian President John Magufuli’s government has restricted access to key information and cracked down on perceived dissent. Lawmakers recently approved an amendment to a statistics law to make it a crime to distribute information not sanctioned by the government or which contradicts the government.
Associated Press writer Maria Cheng in London contributed.
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