Tanzanian president believed to be seriously ill with Covid-19

John Magufuli is a vaccine sceptic who has urged citizens to put their faith in God

Reports that Tanzania's president, John Magufuli, is in hospital and seriously ill from Covid-19 are circulating across a country that has refused to keep track of coronavirus cases.

Mr Magufuli, has not been seen in public for almost two weeks. Opposition leader Tundu Lissu said he had heard that the president was being treated for Covid-19 in a hospital in India, after being transferred there from Kenya.

"He has never worn a mask, he has been going to mass public gatherings without taking any precautions that people are taking all around the world," Mr Lissu told the BBC. "This is someone who has repeatedly and publicly trashed established medicine; he's relied on prayers and herbal concoctions of unproven value."

Authorities in Tanzania, an east African country of about 60 million people, have refused to record Covid-19 cases since April 2020, with Mr Magufuli (61) claiming the country had defeated the virus.


"Our enemies will say a lot, but here in Tanzania we are safe," he declared last July. "We put God first, and God heard us." He encouraged citizens to continue to work and to attend church.

Last week, Tanzania's Catholic Church said 60 nuns and 25 priests had died within the past two months after showing coronavirus symptoms.

"People are not tested. That's a big challenge. The church has about 500 health centres across the country but we are not allowed to test and we don't have the equipment to do so," said Fr Charles Kitima, secretary of the Tanzania Episcopal Conference, in a press conference, as he warned people to take precautions.

Bogus cures

Seif Sharif Hamad (77), the vice-president of semi-autonomous Zanzibar and chairman of the Alliance for Change and Transparency party, died of coronavirus in February. Mr Magufuli said he received news of the death with "profound shock", though did not acknowledge the reason for it. Zanzibar held a week of national mourning.

Tanzanian officials have repeatedly promoted bogus cures for Covid-19, including the herbal concoction touted by Madagascar's president early in the pandemic. In February, health minister Dorothy Gwajima encouraged citizens to make smoothies that included ginger, onions, lemon and pepper, saying that would help keep Covid-19 away. Steam remedies have also been suggested.

Mr Magufuli has questioned the object of testing, claiming that a goat and a pawpaw fruit tested positive for Covid-19. He said vaccines weren’t necessary and that Tanzanians shouldn’t be used as “guinea pigs”.

“If the white man was able to come up with vaccinations, he should have found a vaccination for Aids, cancer and TB by now,” he has said.

Mr Magufuli was re-elected for a second term in October, in a disputed election.

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa