In a July article about the Ebola crisis in Congo, I wrote:
Officials in surrounding countries are terrified of admitting to Ebola cases on their territory, because they may bring with them restrictions on travel, trade, and all sorts of things that may affect their economies – and, consequently, the graft, bribery and corruption they rely on to fill their wallets. Can’t have that interrupted, can we? This is Africa, after all!
I hate being right about something so serious – but it looks as if I was.
The World Health Organization issued an extraordinary statement Saturday raising concerns about possible unreported Ebola cases in Tanzania and urging the country to provide patient samples for testing at an outside laboratory.
The statement relates to a Tanzanian doctor who died Sept. 8 after returning to her country from Uganda; she reportedly had Ebola-like symptoms. Several contacts of the woman became sick, though Tanzanian authorities have insisted they tested negative for Ebola.
But the country has not shared the tests so they can be validated at an outside laboratory, as suggested under the International Health Regulations, a treaty designed to protect the world from spread of infectious diseases.
It is highly unusual for the WHO, which normally operates through more diplomatic means, to publicly reveal that a member country is stymying an important disease investigation.
“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.
“It’s only upside for them to do that, to put any of these issues to rest. And the fact that they’re not doing that, I think both raises concern and … whatever they do next, people are going to have less confidence in it,” Jha said.
Further, Tanzanian authorities waited four days to respond to the WHO’s first urgent request for information — a wait that is well outside what is required of a country under these circumstances.
There’s more at the link.
I’m willing to bet that the authorities in Tanzania, at least on a local and regional level, are desperately hoping against hope that the problem will go away. It won’t, of course. If the initial reports are correct – and, knowing Africa in general and that part of the world in particular, my basic assumption is that they are – I’d say that Ebola has arrived in that country. What’s more, if there have been cases in Tanzania, the odds are very good indeed that there have also been more cases in nearby countries – Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. As I discussed earlier, that’s the logical route for the disease to spread, down the great lakes and rivers of Africa.
The fact that no such cases have been reported is no guarantee that they haven’t occurred. Official ass-covering is one factor; another is the stigma and terror aroused by this disease, making families and entire communities afraid to acknowledge its very existence, let alone that it’s in their midst. “If we ignore the boogeyman, he’ll go away!” is a tragically common reaction – and not just in the Third World.