Govt ill-equipped to contain cholera

HARARE - Government's efforts to contain the cholera outbreak are being hampered by lack of resources, Health and Child Care minister David Parirenyatwa has said.

The outbreak has so far claimed four lives in Chegutu, with suspected cases of the epidemic having risen to 65.

Chegutu is grappling with the continuous flow of effluent into its water system and has struggled to procure chemicals needed to treat its water.

In the National Assembly last week, Parirenyatwa pleaded with legislators to assist government mobilise resources to fight the outbreak.

“It is true that we have got some gaps. We need chloride of lime, what we call aqua tabs, buckets, gumboots, tents, cannulas, and a whole list of that. However, it would be important for people here if they can also mobilise these resources for us, not just for Chegutu, in readiness for where else it can occur — we would be very grateful,” he said.

“The suspected cases are 65 (of which) 30 are female and 35 are male; 17 are under the age of 18 and 10 are under the age of five. So, the breakdown is according to the age and sex and I think we should be able, as a nation, to be alert to this cholera outbreak.”

Parirenyatwa was responding to a question from Zanu PF Member of Parliament for Chegutu West Dexter Nduna who wanted to know when government would avail them the resources to fight cholera.

Chegutu requires 22 mega litres of water every day but the municipality is only treating 12 mega litres.

Of that, only three mega litres is going into residents’ homes while the rest is lost in transit due to the deplorable state of the pipes.

The current water system was meant to cater for just 4 000 people, but the town now is home to over 25 000 people.

Parirenyatwa, however, assured legislators that government has made efforts in trying to contain cholera in Chegutu and that all the provinces have been put on high alert.

Taskforces constituted by government and other stakeholders are currently holding meetings in preparation for any cases that may occur in their localities.

He also revealed that a treatment camp closer to where the patients are coming from has been set up at Chinengundu Clinic in Chegutu.

“Those that are sick or have signs and symptoms of cholera illness are encouraged to come for screening and treatment,” he said.

“Supplies are being mobilised and transported to the treatment camp and these include adequate IV fluids, antibiotics, disinfectants and other necessary accessories. We have had support from MSF, Unicef and from other stakeholders and donors.

Also known as Doctors Without Borders, MSF is the acronym for Medecins Sans Frontieres — an international non-governmental organisation best known for its projects in war-torn countries and developing nations affected by endemic diseases.

Unicef stands for the United Nations Children’s Fund, which protects and defends children’s rights.

Parirenyatwa cautioned that the preparation and consumption of food at funerals and other gatherings should be supervised by health workers.

“We urge populations, especially in the cholera-affected areas, to avoid shaking hands during gatherings to avoid the spread of cholera,” he said.

He said old infrastructure in major towns and cities can no longer cope with the demand for water supplies occasioned by their growing population.

“We are hoping that this cholera outbreak can be contained and it is really a task for all of us as a nation. The real cause is our water and sanitation problems. It is a disease of dark ages. It is true but you must have the piping right.

“What happens with these pipes is, if they get rotten after so many years of use, they leak out water. They burst down there but because of that, they also suck dirt. That is why you find some of the pipes, they bring very dirty water. These pipes are now rotten. You seriously need to look at the country as a whole and upgrade the whole infrastructure, completely new piping because as it is now, we will not win this war.”

Zimbabwe has been on high alert since the outbreak of cholera in Lusaka early this month and has reactivated its emergency response teams to deal with any case that could arise.

The outbreak in Zambia has affected at least 3 000 people and has claimed 70 lives so far.

The epidemic has spread to other southern African countries, especially Namibia and Malawi where it has killed eight and four people respectively.

The outbreak comes when the Zimbabwean government has stepped up cholera controls in Kariba and Chirundu border towns to forestall transmissions from travellers from Zambia.

There does not appear to be any relationship between the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe and that which broke out in Zambia as none of the affected people had travelled to the neighbouring country.

Cholera is an acute diarrhoeal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium vibrio cholerae.

It remains a global threat to public health and an indicator of inequity and lack of social development.

Researchers have estimated that every year, there are roughly 1,3 to 4,0 million cases, and 21 000 to 143 000 deaths worldwide due to cholera.

Cholera is an extremely virulent disease that can cause severe acute watery diarrhoea. It takes between 12 hours and 5 days for a person to show symptoms after ingesting contaminated food or water.

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