However, the sacking of Dr Malecela, one of the country’s leading scientists, comes a few hours after she had reported that the Zika virus had been detected in Morogoro and Geita regions.
She was giving the highlights of NIMR’s undertakings during the year, including findings of a research on the virus in the country, on Thursday in Dar es Salaam.
The research, according Dr Malecela, was conducted in collaboration with Bugando Catholic University of Health and Allied Sciences.
A terse statement by the Directorate of Presidential Communication at the State House said: “President John Magufuli has today, November 16 (on Friday), revoked the appointment of the Director General of the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), Dr Mwele Malecela.”
“The appointment of a new NIMR Director General to replace Dr Mwele Malecela will be announced later,” the statement added.
Yesterday, the Directorate of Presidential Communication released another statement saying that President Magufuli had appointed Prof Yunus Mgaya to replace Dr Malecela with immediate effect.
Dr Mgaya was Executive Secretary of the Tanzania Commission for Universities (TCU), but had in May, this year, been suspended by Education, Science, Technology and Vocational Training Minister Prof Joyce Ndalichako over alleged failure to supervise quality and university accreditation.
On Thursday, Dr Malecela was quoted as saying that the government was working on strategies to ensure that all pregnant mothers were protected from Zika virus-carrying mosquitoes.
She said the research was conducted in Geita and Morogoro regions after learning about prevailing conditions suitable for proliferation of mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus. For example, she said, out of 533 examined individuals, 15.6 per cent were discovered to be carrying the virus.
However, in a quick response, Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu on Friday allayed fears over the reported Zika virus detection, saying the World Health Organisation (WHO) was yet to confirm the reports.
She said any outbreak of a disease with serious international concern had to be verified and announced by the global health agency.
WHO Representative in Tanzania Dr Grace Saguti yesterday confirmed that there were no reports about the Zika virus in Tanzania, adding that there was not a single child born with signs of the virus.
“WHO is working closely with the Ministry of Health to monitor outbreak of the disease. We have never received any reports indicating that there are people affected by the Zika virus,” Dr Saguti told a news conference in Dar es Salaam.
Ministry of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr Mohamed Kambi, for his part, said the ministry had laid down procedures for getting information on the outbreak of diseases, but hastened to add that there was no information showing outbreak of the Zika virus.
“There is no Zika patient in Tanzania. Let me repeat - there is no Zika patient in Tanzania,” stressed Dr Kambi.
The Zika virus, which was isolated from monkeys in Uganda about 70 years ago, has prompted worldwide concern after it began spreading very fast in the Americas early this year.
The Zika virus is believed to cause serious damage to a foetus such that babies are born with brain damage and head deformity.
“No Zika virus has been verified in the country so far. The Zika virus is an international reportable disease of which any discerned condition must be verified by the WHO in collaboration with the office of the Chief Government Medical Officer in the respective country,” Mwalimu said.
In February, this year, the government gave a directive to all doctors in the country to keep an eye on the threat of the virus.
In the 1980s, the virus was isolated in humans in Tanzania, Central African Republic, Egypt, Gabon, Uganda, Sierra Leone, as well as in parts of Asia, according to studies done over the years and published in various journals.
The WHO estimated that at least 3 to 4 million people across the Americas were likely to be infected with the virus this year.
The Zika virus is in the same family as the yellow fever virus, West Nile, chikungunya and dengue - strains that are also prevalent in Tanzania. But, unlike some of those viruses, there is no vaccine to prevent Zika or medicine to treat its infection.
Zika has now gained worldwide attention because of the alarming connection between the virus and a neurological disorder that results in babies being born with abnormally small heads. This causes severe developmental issues and sometimes death.
Reports show that since November, last year, Brazil has seen 4,180 cases of microcephaly in babies born by women who were infected with the Zika virus during their pregnancy.