By James Muonwa
ZIMBABWE is reeling under a devastating cholera outbreak that has so far affected more than 5 000 citizens across the country, marking another dark epoch wrought by the disease.
Cholera is an acute diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with vibrio cholerae bacteria. Humans get sick when they swallow food or water contaminated with cholera bacteria. The infection is often mild or without symptoms, but can sometimes be severe and life-threatening.
In a post-Cabinet briefing Tuesday, Information Minister, Jenfan Muswere said Health and Child Care Minister, Douglas Mombeshora, painted a gloomy picture of the cholera outbreak as numbers keep rising with the worst affected provinces being Manicaland and Harare.
“Cabinet advises that as at 21st October 2023, Zimbabwe’s cumulative suspected cholera cases were 5 338 with 5 090 recoveries. Manicaland province and Harare province contributed the highest number of cholera cases in Zimbabwe, having reported 2 524 and 1 654 cumulative cholera cases, respectively by 21st October, 2023,” said Muswere.
He highlighted that poor sanitation and low safe water coverage had driven the cholera outbreak, especially in Harare Metropolitan province.
Muswere said efforts were being made to ensure the availability of safe drinking water as evidenced by the drilling of twelve boreholes in Buhera in Manicaland.
“Cabinet reports that health education on cholera prevention and control measures, including hygiene promotion, is ongoing in provinces.
“Health educators in affected communities have been trained to also facilitate surveillance and risk communication. Door-to-door cholera campaigns are being made in the affected provinces.”
In a bid to control the malady, public gatherings, including funerals, will be put under surveillance by health officials to ensure strict adherence to hygiene protocols.
“Cabinet further reiterated additional measures as follows: that all gatherings in cholera-affected areas be supervised in order to ensure adequate clean water and sanitation provision; that all burial be supervised, regardless of the cause of death in all cholera-affected areas to reduce transmission; and that public health measures be enforced in all communities reporting cholera cases,” the minister added.
Zimbabwe first reported cholera in 1972 with sporadic outbreaks occurring in subsequent decades.
The largest cholera outbreak occurred between August 2008 and July 2009, which recorded 98 592 cases and 4 288 deaths
In 2008, Amnesty International found that the government’s failure to contain and manage the cholera outbreak was caused by the lack of a safe drinking water supply and broken-down sanitation systems that left residents surrounded by flowing raw sewage and swarms of houseflies that were disease vectors.
Yet two decades later we are still afflicted by the same failures causing this latest outbreak.
The latest epidemic has once again cast a dark shadow on government’s sincerity to improve the living conditions and health infrastructure in Zimbabwe.
“The current cholera epidemic is a terrible consequence of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s failure to invest in and manage both its basic water and sanitation infrastructure and its health care system.
“It is appalling that in 2023, people are still dying of such a primitive but preventable disease of yesteryears,” said Joseph Chitere, director of Safe Water Advocates, a local non-governmental organisation
Stakeholders are calling on the government to take immediate action to ensure that further deaths are prevented through ensuring access to appropriate medical care and treatment.
In the long term, Chitere says government must prioritise rebuilding the country’s health care system and infrastructure and avoid profligacy on non-essentials such as top-of-the-range vehicles.