HARARE - Humanitarian workers in Zimbabwe are preparing for fresh cholera outbreaks as the rainy season threatens to revive an epidemic that claimed over 4 000 lives seven years ago, officials said on Wednesday.
The warning reflects big challenges confronting President Robert Mugabe’s cash-strapped government.
David Parirenyatwa, the Health and Child Care minister, has said that fighting the cholera epidemic detected in border towns will be an immediate priority of the government.
A huge UN-led humanitarian operation has helped to reduce the fatality rate from the cholera epidemic from peaks in 2008 when dozens of sick patients were dying everyday.
But downpours heralding this year’s rainy season appear to have led to increased cholera cases again in some areas, prompting fears of fresh outbreaks of the diarrheal disease that is spread by contaminated water and food.
Parirenyatwa said there was one confirmed case and five suspected ones — which were all concentrated in areas along the country’s border lines with Mozambique.
This comes as the death toll from the Mozambique cholera epidemic that broke out after widespread flooding has risen by almost 50 percent in two weeks to 41, health officials said on Monday.
And the number of new cholera infections has more than doubled over the past fortnight.
Mozambique authorities said the hardest hit region is the coal-rich western Tete province, which borders Zimbabwe and Malawi.
“There was one case in Chiredzi, which has since been well contained,” Parirenyatwa said.
“There were five suspected cases in Mudzi which we still have to confirm. I reported that yesterday to Cabinet,” said the minister on Wednesday.
“Our system has done well but we are worried about border posts. For example, the cases in Mudzi arose after a woman brought an ill child from Mozambique and infected the whole family of five.
“It’s the border areas, particularly with Mozambique because there cholera cases are sometimes described as diarrhoea cases, so that’s our biggest problem and we have a long border with Mozambique, over 1 700 kilometres. We need to link up and stamp this out. If we don’t work together, then we have a problem.”
Apart from the five suspected cases, this Tuesday a further three suspected cholera cases were recorded in Beitbridge, escalating fears of resurgence of the deadly disease.
Parirenyatwa emphasised that the country was on high alert and a team has already been dispatched to Mudzi to help investigate and contain the situation.
“The Beitbridge cases, I have heard but I am yet to get the report from those in charge,” he said.
“Our teams on the ground are fully on alert. We have made our teams descend on Mudzi to make sure it’s contained and we hear more about those cases.”
Mozambique Health ministry spokesperson Quinhas Fernandes was this Monday quoted saying 4 518 cases and 41 deaths have been recorded since December 25.
Despite Tete being spared by recent floods, its capital city alone has recorded over 1 500 cases in the last two months and cases continue to soar.
Just like Mozambique, Zimbabwe is persistently struggling to control waterborne diseases during the rainy season.
Currently, diarrhoea is leading the disease chart in the country.
The situation had greatly improved after donors and World Bank chipped in with resources.