Elizabeth Msoka-Bright has an MSc in Advanced Nursing Science from the University of Nottingham. She is a research scientist at Kilimanjaro Clinical Research Institute (KCRI) and here she shares some of her personal observations and experiences during the current COVID-19 pandemic in Tanzania.
In my country, Tanzania, the first case of COVID-19 was reported on 16 March. I was filled with fear because I was trying to imagine the situations of badly hit countries and compare them with Tanzania and how it would affect our health system as a whole. I couldn’t get much healthy sleep. On top of this, there was so much confusing information on social media regarding the virus and Africa. I remember there was a very scary prediction that, in Africa, there would be dead bodies lying around the street and that information made me sweat in silent panic about the situation.
However, God is always good. Our President Dr. John Joseph Pombe Magufuli with his Ministers closed schools and Universities and encouraged people to remain strong and work. The Ministry of Health provided education about the virus and how to take precautions (wearing masks, washing hands, practising social distancing etc.). However, the President never encouraged a lockdown which helped us a lot in terms of freedom to worship, freedom to interact with precautions, freedom to run businesses, although it was a challenge since customers were few. I appreciate our President for these decisions because as Africans we are still struggling for a better life for ourselves, for our children and for our extended families. So, if we were under lockdown I can imagine most of us would have being dying not because of the virus but because of fear, stress and hunger. Currently, the country situation is steadily returning to normal as the Universities and high schools have opened, and people are attending their work stations, all with precautions.
However, COVID-19 has also affected us economically and socially. Initially we were affected economically because our country also depends on tourism, so with the virus and the lockdown, tourists were not visiting. In business, customer numbers have been reduced due to social distancing, and so some companies have slowed down their production and some people have lost their jobs. Socially, COVID-19 has prevented the gathering of people and so social events such as weddings, parties and funerals have limited numbers of people and so social interactions have being affected. Some people have lost their loved ones due to the virus, which has had an effect on their mental health.
Sports and education activities have also been affected by this virus. Many institutions rely on e-learning, WhatsApp, Google apps and other forms of social media for teaching and learning. For most school courses, teaching online is a big challenge for teachers working from home because of interruptions from their own children asking for help with their assignments, or asking for food and other necessities. Lack of access to technology and the role of culture have had a big influence on changes in education.
COVID-19 has also affected the research activities at our Research Institute. This is because most of our research projects are partnerships with our fellows from European countries where the effects of the virus have been severe. Activities have been stopped (especially the community works), and the timeline for all the activities and the funding has had to be revised. As a researcher, I run a small project on breast cancer which has being affected because I cannot sit face to face with breast cancer patients for an in-depth interview because of the risk of infection. This will negatively affect my data collection because I will not be able to complete it in the planned time frame.
However, when you look at the positive side of the pandemic for researchers and academics there is an opportunity to write papers and publish. A researcher can change the methodology of her research from field-based survey to another. If the research population is literate with internet access, she can go for an online survey. Alternatively, if the population has access to a telephone, she can adopt telephone interviews with support from a field assistant. This is a valid method of data collection for research worldwide. In addition, there is a need to share findings on research about the infectious diseases, which might have been impacted by the focus on the current epidemic.
Lastly, I would like to tell people, especially in my country, that Corona virus is still circulating so I urge them to keep on adhering to the instructions from the Government and Ministry of Health and together we shall end Corona virus.