Let's take health warnings seriously

HARARE - Back in September, Health minister David Parirenyatwa warned urban residents of a possible cholera and typhoid outbreak, if residents were not cautious of their water sources during the rainy season.

In retrospect, we are beginning to question if we did enough as a country in the wake of that warning.

Currently, the City of Harare is handling suspected typhoid cases following unconfirmed reports that two Mbare residents had succumbed to the desease.

Although the City’s Health department — together with the parent ministry — are reportedly on high alert following reports of the outbreak of the highly contagious water-borne disease, we suspect this is rather late.

Parirenyatwa’s warning should have been taken seriously when it was issued, well before the advent of the rainy season.

All along, urban local authorities have been battling to supply adequate safe water to residents as levels in dams they source water from had dropped significantly.

Despite the rains, water taps have remained dry in certain urban centres like Chitungwiza, forcing residents to rely on water harvested during heavy downpours and shallow wells.

When rain water flows, it scoops with it dirt into shallow wells.

Now with reports that even borehole water — which most Zimbabweans had considered safe — could also be contaminated, the Health minister has recommended that the water be tested.

The Mbare deaths, as well as the 126 reported cases, of which 12 were confirmed, according to the City’s health director Prosper Chonzi, we can only fear for the worst if an appropriate response strategy is not put in place in other suburbs of the capital.

For most Zimbabweans, there is nothing entirely new here as memories of water shortages of 2008 led to the death of over 4 000 people from a cholera epidemic that struck the country then.

Today, rivulets of sewage are common in most high-density suburbs and unless the authorities act now — we are likely to see the typhoid outbreak spiralling out of control.

Cholera and typhoid are medieval diseases and should not be allowed to decimate our populations at this age and time.

There is need for deliberate efforts to ensure urbanisation goes with proper planning and adequate sanitation. Cities can spread diseases very rapidly and authorities must address lack of sanitation in urban areas, which is a sure channel for the spread of diseases. Burst sewers must be eliminated completely and people must get clean sources of water.

It is important for residents to boil all water, regardless of the source, in order to guard against the incidence of water-borne diseases.

All citizens have a duty to promote public health education, vaccination, sanitation and keep our environment tidy.

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