Tanzania and WHO cross swords over Ebola data


Tanzania summoned the World Health Organisation’s local representative over its assertion that government refused to share information on suspected Ebola cases, signalling displeasure at the agency’s rare public rebuke.

Transparency and speed are key to combating the deadly haemorrhagic fever because it spreads rapidly. Anyone deemed to have been in contact with potentially infected people must be quarantined and the public warned to step up precautions such as handwashing.

WHO said on Saturday it was made aware on September 10 of the death of a patient in Dar es Salaam and was unofficially told the next day the person tested positive for Ebola. The woman died on September 8.

On Tuesday government spokesman Hassan Abbasi said on Twitter WHO country representative Tigest Ketsela Mengestu was summoned by deputy foreign affairs minister Damas Ndumbaro, to Dar es Salaam.

“The representative insisted the WHO has not declared there is Ebola in Tanzania, nor does it have evidence and pledged to co-operate with government,” Abbasi said.

“During the talks, the WHO agreed to follow guidelines outlined by the agency itself and ratified by government if it wants additional information from the Tanzanian government.”

In its weekend statement, WHO said it was unofficially told Tanzania had two other possible Ebola cases. One tested negative and there was no information on the second.

Officially, the Tanzanian government said previously it had no confirmed or suspected Ebola cases. Government did not address the death of the woman directly and did not provide further information.

Tanzania’s health minister said on September 14 government investigated two recent cases of unknown illnesses, but they were not Ebola.

The WHO made its weekend announcement days after the head of a US government health agency travelled to Tanzania at the direction of America’s health secretary, Alex Azar. Azar criticised Tanzania for not sharing information.

WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told reporters in Geneva the agency had not received information after it requested Tanzanian authorities to assess potential risks from recent incidents.

She ruled out punitive action and reiterated that WHO advised against travel or trade restrictions based on the present circumstances.

“We need to continue communicating and provide them with help and expertise. We cannot sanction a country. It is not our mandate,” Chaib said.