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How dangerous is Ebola in Tanzania for visitors?

United Kingdom issues Tanzania travel advisory over suspected Ebola cases
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Written by Dmytro Makarov
The African Tourism Board (ATB) is urging tourism and health officials in Tanzania to be transparent in addressing rumors of a possible Ebola threat to the country. The travel and tourism industry is an important income generator for Tanzania. How far are Tanzania government officials willing to go in order to hide an outbreak of Ebola?

A spokesperson for ATB said: “What makes this news more dangerous is not having access to all the facts. The danger for a visitor to get sick on Ebola may be nothing. The real danger here is the perception that authorities are hiding information.

“This could trigger a psychological effect on the imagination of holidaymakers, foreign government officials, and visitors. The US  and UK travel advisories about Tanzania are based on this question of transparency and not on a documented danger. Hiding information to protect the tourism industry may actually hurt the sector tremendously.”

The UK has urged travelers heading to Tanzania to remain alert to the possibility that there may be unreported cases of Ebola circulating in the country.

In travel advice posted on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website, officials have highlighted a World Health Organization investigation into rumors of Ebola in Tanzania and warned travelers to “keep up to date with developments.”

The US State Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also updated travel advice for those visiting the East African nation.

A new law in Tanzania tells journalists that the government is always correct. This law makes it a  crime for media to criminalize the distribution of information that contradicts the government.

With this law, changing the Statistics Act, the Tanzania government introduces new procedures for the publication of non-official statistical information, which makes the publication of information that distorts, discredits, or contradicts official statistics an offense. International human rights watchdog Amnesty International interprets the amendment as an attempt by the government to monopolize national data and “criminalize access to information.”

Ebola in Tanzania could be a shocking development in the spread of this deadly disease. Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, has a population of 6 million people. On September 10, 2019, the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) were made aware of unofficial reports regarding the unexplained death of a woman 2 days earlier from probable Ebola in Dar es Salaam. This individual reportedly traveled around the country while ill, including to the cities of Songea, Njombe, and Mbeya.

The woman had been in Uganda studying. She reportedly returned to Tanzania on August 22 and traveled to multiple cities in Tanzania doing field-work. She developed Ebola-like symptoms on August 29, including fever and bloody diarrhea. She died in the Tanzanian capital and was buried immediately. Dar es Salaam has a population of more than 5 million people.

Songea is the capital of the Ruvuma Region in southwestern Tanzania. It is located along the A19 road. The city has a population of approximately 203,309, and it is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Songea.

The Njombe Region is one of the 31 administrative regions of Tanzania. It was established in March 2012, from the Iringa Region as an independent region. The capital is Njombe town.

Mbeya is a city in southwest Tanzania. It sits at the base of soaring Loleza Peak between the Mbeya and Poroto mountain ranges. On the town’s outskirts is Lake Ngozi, a huge crater lake surrounded by dense forest rich in bird life. Kitulo Plateau National Park, southeast of the city, is known for its colorful wildflowers. Farther south is Matema Beach, a resort town on the shores of the vast fish-filled Lake Nyasa.

The United States and the UK are now alerting citizens about the possibility that Ebola may be hidden in Tanzania.

Tanzania has repeatedly denied the possibility that it is hiding an Ebola case, even as the World Health Organization reiterates the importance of sharing information with all stakeholders. Around 75,000 UK nationals visit Tanzania every year, and the country’s tourism sector is likely to bear the brunt of the fallout from this potential Ebola scandal.

“The presumption is that if all the tests really have been negative, then there is no reason for Tanzania not to submit those samples for secondary testing and verification,” Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told STAT.

Further, Tanzanian authorities waited 4 days to respond to WHO’s first urgent request for information — a wait that is well outside what is required of a country under these circumstances. Two days into the wait, the WHO alerted member countries of the alarming situation via a secure website it uses to communicate sensitive information.

The concern is heightened by the fact that all of east Africa is on alert for the possible spread of Ebola from the protracted outbreak occurring in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The outbreak, the second largest on record, is in its 14th month. As of Friday, there have been 3,160 cases reported and 2,114 deaths.

More recent news on Ebola threats in Africa.


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Dmytro Makarov