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26 Sep 2019

The World Health Organisation has urged Tanzania to share information about suspected Ebola cases, suggesting the East African nation was not being completely transparent about the deadly virus.

Early in September, WHO received what it described as unofficial reports of an Ebola death in the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam. But the Organisation says it had received no information through official channels.

On September 14, the Tanzanian government made a statement saying there was no Ebola outbreak in the country, but added that it had investigated two recent cases of unknown illnesses – stressing that they were not cases of Ebola.

In an unusual move, WHO issued a statement calling for full transparency over the issue, and suggested there were multiple suspected cases in the country.

WHO rebuked the Tanzanian government for withholding pathology samples for independent testing.

Spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said despite repeated requests, WHO had not received any further details about the suspected Ebola death from Tanzanian authorities.

Tanzania retaliated on September 24 by summoning WHO’s local representative over its assertion that the government refused to share information.

Government spokesman Hassan Abbasi said WHO’s country representative Tigest Ketsela Mengestu was summoned by Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Damas Ndumbaro.

“The representative insisted that the WHO has not declared that there is Ebola in Tanzania, nor does it have any evidence on that and pledged to cooperate with the government,” Mr Abbasi said.

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

Ms Chaib subsequently told reporters in Geneva that WHO had not received any information after it had requested Tanzanian authorities to assess potential risks from the recent incidences.

But she said WHO had advised against any punitive actions against Tanzania.

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

WHO member states, of which Tanzania is one, are obligated under international health regulations to inform WHO of any suspected Ebola cases.

If Ebola has reached Tanzania, it would be a serious development in the spread of the virus. It has killed more than 2,000 people in eastern Congo since August 2018.

Published: 26 Sep 2019