The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) revealed on Thursday that faulty coronavirus test kits imported to Tanzania – which produced positive samples for a goat and a pawpaw, a papaya-like fruit – came from China, Reuters reported. Prior to the revelation, the origin of the imported test kits was unknown.
On Sunday, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli ordered an investigation into imported coronavirus test kits after announcing that the tests returned positive results for samples taken from a goat and a pawpaw. At the time, the president did not say where the test kits had been imported.
On Thursday, John Nkengasong, head of the Africa CDC, responded to the investigation. Nkengasong said that the test kits in question were imported to Africa from China, and then sent to Tanzania by the Africa CDC. China donated the test kits to Africa through the Jack Ma Foundation, a charitable organization founded by Chinese billionaire and Communist Party member Jack Ma. Ma founded the Chinese multinational technology company Alibaba Group.
In a speech broadcast on Tanzanian-state TV on Sunday and reported on by Reuters, Magufuli explained how the imported tests came to produce positive results for an animal and a fruit.
The president said he requested the goat and pawpaw samples – along with several other non-human samples – be submitted for testing at a Tanzanian laboratory, in an attempt to verify the testing kits’ accuracy. The non-human samples were assigned human names and ages and lab technicians were left intentionally unaware of their true origins.
On Sunday, the president called for an investigation of the imported testing kits and the Tanzanian laboratory in which the kits were used. He said he suspected a “dirty game” had taken place in the laboratory, according to a report by Al Jazeera.
“The equipment or people [lab technicians] may be compromised and sometimes it can be sabotage,” Magufuli said, according to the report. On Monday, the director of the laboratory that produced the positive goat and pawpaw tests was suspended “to pave way for the investigation,” which is now underway.
On Thursday, Nkengasong commented on Magufuli’s allegation that the Africa CDC sent defective Chinese test kits to Tanzania, Reuters reports.
“We are very instrumental in training, providing training to nearly all countries, and providing them with test kits. We’ve also in the last couple of weeks and months distributed tests from the Jack Ma Foundation that have been validated and proven to be very, very reliable,” the Africa CDC chief said.
Matshidiso Moeti, leader of the World Health Organization’s (W.H.O.) Africa office, also reacted to Tanzania’s investigation of the imported test kits.
“We are convinced that the tests that have been provided … both through procurement through [W.H.O.’s Africa office] and those that came through Jack Ma donations, were not contaminated with the [Chinese corona]virus,” Moeti said in a teleconference with journalists on Thursday, according to Reuters.
Recently, Magufuli’s administration has drawn criticism for its alleged failure to contain Tanzania’s coronavirus outbreak. The country’s reaction to the coronavirus has been relatively lax, with most public institutions and businesses remaining open, with the exception of schools and universities.
In March, the president encouraged Tanzanians to pray away the coronavirus in lieu of wearing protective masks. Opposition leaders have accused Magufuli of hiding Tanzania’s true coronavirus statistics, implying that they are higher than reported.
At press time on Thursday, Tanzania had officially reported 480 infections and 16 deaths from the Chinese coronavirus.