DAR ES SALAAM – Tanzania refuses to provide detailed information on suspected Ebola cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a rare public outcry as the region struggles with an epidemic already declared a global health crisis.
Transparency and speed are key to fighting deadly hemorrhagic fever as it can spread rapidly. The contacts of potentially infected persons should be quarantined and the public warned to increase precautions such as hand washing.
The WHO said in a statement late Saturday that it was aware of the patient's death in Dar es Salaam on September 10, and unofficially said the following day that the person tested positive for Ebola. The woman died on September 8th.
"The identified contacts of the deceased have been unofficially reported to be quarantined at various places in the country," the statement said.
The WHO said it was unofficially told that Tanzania had two other possible Ebola cases. One was tested negative and no information was available on the other.
Officially, the Tanzanian government announced last weekend that there were no confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola. The government did not directly address the death of the woman and did not provide further information.
Despite several requests, "clinical data, test results, possible contacts, and potential laboratory tests … have not been reported to the WHO," the US agency said.
"The limited official information available to the Tanzanian authorities is a challenge."
Tanzania Health Ministry officials could not be reached for comment.
Authorities in East and Central Africa were on high alert for possible Ebola outbreaks from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where more than 2,000 people died in one-year outbreaks.
Experts have been vehemently criticized by the World Health Organization during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak that claimed more than 11,300 lives in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone for not moving faster to prevent the epidemic, which is still the worst in the world.
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Last week, US Health Secretary Alex Azar criticized Tanzania for not sharing information about the possible outbreak. The next day, he sent a senior health officer to Tanzania.
Uganda has already recorded several cases after sick patients crossed the border from Congo. The rapid response of the government prevented the spread of the disease.
A 34-year-old woman who died in Dar es Salaam has traveled to Uganda, according to a World Health Organization document leaked earlier this month. She showed signs of Ebola, including headache, fever, rash and bloody diarrhea on August 10, and died on September 8.
Tanzania relies heavily on tourism and the Ebola epidemic is likely to discourage visitors.
The WHO statement is not the first time international organizations have sought information from the government of President John Magufuli, nicknamed Bulldozer.
Earlier this year, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund contradicted the government's economic growth estimate for 2018. (Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Writing by Elias Biryabarema Editing by Katharine Houreld, Robert Birsel and Raissa Kasolowsky)