By Omar Mohammed
NAIROBI (Reuters) – Tanzania has formally told the World Health Organization (WHO) that it has no cases of Ebola after a woman died there earlier this month from an unknown illness following Ebola-like symptoms, the organization said on Wednesday.
“This followed earlier rumors of the death of one person and illness in a few others,” the WHO said in a statement. “Tanzanian authorities did not indicate what the cause of the illnesses might have been.”
The WHO received the notification on Sept. 14, the statement said. It was unclear why it took four days to make it public.
The WHO announcement came a day after the head of a U.S. government health agency traveled to Tanzania at the direction of America’s health secretary, Alex Azar. Azar criticized Tanzania earlier this week for not sharing information.
Tanzania’s health minister said on Saturday that the government had investigated two recent cases of unknown illnesses, but they were not Ebola.
“The two patients did not have Ebola,” Ummy Mwalimu told reporters. “There is no Ebola outbreak in Tanzania as we speak, people should not panic.”
She did not say if the two cases investigated included the death of the woman. The ministry did not answer calls on Wednesday.
Azar said on Monday that he was aware of a death in Tanzania and that the government had reported two suspected cases who tested negative for Ebola.
“The government of Tanzania, however, has not made available the samples or the ability to test the index case of the individual who died, nor has it made available any other information,” Azar told reporters during a prearranged tour of Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to evaluate their Ebola response, according to a transcript of his remarks.
He called on Tanzania to comply with international obligations to share information and allow independent verification of test results.
There is increased vigilance across East Africa after an outbreak of Ebola in the DRC killed more than 2,000 people. It is the second-largest Ebola outbreak in global history.
Concern has focused on a woman who died on Sept. 8 in Dar es Salaam, after exhibiting symptoms common to several diseases, including Ebola. There was no indication the woman had travelled to an affected area or had contact with an infected person.
(Reporting by Omar Mohammed in Nairobi; additional reporting by Fumbuka Ng’wanakilala in Dar es Salaam and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; editing by Katharine Houreld and Alexandra Hudson)