Coronavirus: Tanzania suspends head of health lab after president questions test kits

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Tanzania has suspended the head of its national health laboratory in charge of testing for the coronavirus and ordered an investigation, a day after President John Magufuli questioned the tests’ accuracy.

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Magufuli said on Sunday the imported test kits were faulty as they had returned positive results on a goat and a pawpaw — among several non-human samples submitted for testing, with technicians left deliberately unaware of their origins.

He did not say where the kits had been imported from or why the authorities had been suspicious of the results.

Catherine Sungura, acting head of communications at the ministry of health, said in a statement on Monday the director of the laboratory and its quality assurance manager had been immediately suspended “to pave way for the investigation”.

Sungura said a 10-person committee had been formed to investigate the laboratory’s operations, including its process of collecting and testing samples.

On Sunday, Magufuli also fired the head of the government Medical Stores Department, which is in charge of distributing medical supplies and equipment to government hospitals, but gave no reason.

As of Monday, Tanzania had recorded 480 cases of COVID-19 and 18 deaths, according to a Reuters tally based on government and World Health Organization data.

Unlike most other African countries, Tanzania sometimes goes for days without offering updates, with the last bulletin on cases on Wednesday.

COVID-19 infections and fatalities reported across Africa have been relatively low compared with the United States, parts of Asia and Europe. But Africa also has extremely low levels of testing, with rates of only around 500 per million people.

In neighboring Kenya, a senate body sought an explanation from the Health Ministry over the circumstances leading to the demotion of the head of the rapid response and team director in charge of the center for virus research at the state-run Kenya Medical Research Institute.

“In relation to the above, the committee observes that the timing of the dismissal is wrong as it is likely to have a significant impact on the morale and motivation of the various staff that were working under him,” the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on the COVID-19 situation in Kenya said in a report on April 28.

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