DODOMA, 24 February 2021 – A video put out ostensibly to debunk rumors that Tanzania’s finance minister, Philip Mpango, was dead has been widely criticized for its lack of tact.
So persistent had the rumors become that even President John Magufuli was drawn in last week into debunking them.
Dr. Philip Mpango “is alive and improving”, Magufuli told reporters last week.
Mpango himself was recruited in the effort to debunk the rumors and put before a camera.
In the video, the ailing Mpango is flanked by two medical professionals who were all not wearing masks, as the minister reads a statement to journalists to prove that he is alive.
The video, shot at the Benjamin Mkapa Hospital in the capital, Dodoma, has been criticized as cuel, unnecessary and sickening.
Mpango is seen coughing and stopping several times to catch his breath as he reads the statement.
The ailing minister used what are considered “the right words” for any pro-govenrment official.
Mpango said he was having “breathing problems” and admitted he needs extra oxygen.
With Tanzanian offiials claiming that Tanzania is COVID-19-free, the prhase “breathing problems” has come to understood to be code for complications from COVID-19.
Mpango claimed in the video that he had recovered.
Tanzanian opposition leader Tundi Lissu has slammed the staged press briefing.
“Who allowed a sick man to do this?,” Lissu asked.
“He is coughing and not wearing a mask. He should be resting and receiving treatment,” the opposition leader added, describing the time wasted debunking rumors instead of attending to a man in need of medical care, as “reckless”.
The finance minister fights back tears and emotions as he extends condolences to the families of the most high-profile victims of COVID-19 in Tanzania so far.
Mpango apologized for not being able to attend the funerals of the late First Vice-President of Zanzibar Seif Sharif Hamad, of Tanzania’s Chief Secretary and Head of Civil Service John Kijazi and of former the Tanzania Central Bank Prof. Benno Ndulu.
Hamad and Kijazi died last week within hours of each other from complications arising from COVID-19.
“It was sad that I didn’t attend any of their burial but I wish them eternal peace,” Mpagno told the press briefing.
The government of Tanzania has not attributed any of the deaths to COVID-19.
Medical experts are hoping that Tanzania is turning away from denying the existence or deadly effect of the pandemic ever since Magufuli, last week, appeared to drop the insistence that the country is “COVID-19 free”.
At the funeral of Kijazi, President Magufuli encouraged Tanzanians to observe health protocols including wearing masks to prevent the spread of the virus.
This recent spate of deaths attributed to pneumonia has made denial of the existence of COVID-19 less believable even to the stauncest of Magufuli supporters in this country of 60 million inhabitants.
Last Saturday, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a number of Tanzanians traveling to neighboring countries and beyond had tested positive for the new coronavirus, proving that Tanzania is anything but COVID-19-free.
“This underscores the need for Tanzania to take robust action both to safeguard their own people and protect populations in these countries and beyond,” the WHO boss said in a statement
The last time Tanzania shared information on the virus was in May of last year.