Fears grow as cholera cases rise

HARARE - Fear have grown that the deadly cholera disease could spread to other suburbs in the capital city after Glen View 1 Poly Clinic recorded more than 100 suspected cases of the highly-infectious disease by mid-day yesterday.

This comes as five people have so far died from cholera although residents yesterday said the death toll was rising.

Harare City Council (HCC) doctor in charge of South Western suburbs George Mutawa, warned that the disease was likely to spread as most of the deceased had been taken for burial in their rural homes instead of Harare.

“There is an influx of numbers and…. we cannot handle the huge numbers. By midday we had attended to 106 patients, but we do not know if medical stocks can contain the volumes of patients if the numbers increase. More people are still flocking in, while the serious cases have been referred to (Beatrice Road Infectious Disease Hospital (BRIDH).

“As our management of cases becomes effective we anticipate the numbers to go down.

“The issue now is that the deceased were buried elsewhere and there is fear of the disease spreading to Mutoko were a family went.

“Ideally for diseases such as these all deceased should be buried locally to avoid spreading. Currently we know of one still at the mortuary,” Mutawa said.

He said council was working with health experts in the areas where the deceased had been buried to stop the spreading of cholera.

“We have noticed that it was caused by poor hygiene and sanitation mainly due to lack of supply of clean water.

“Many sources of water in the affected areas are municipal, bush pumps and wells. Preference of water is determined by its availability. In the past few weeks there was no water.

“There is, however, a usual flow of sewage around Glen View 3 and Area 8. We implore the water department to give clean water to residents and urgently attend to sewer bursts.

“Treatment is not a problem but without addressing the background issues we will be treating cholera forever,” Mutawa warned.

Newly-elected Harare Mayor Herbert Gomba said council departments were working round the clock to contain the outbreak.

“We cannot keep traditional systems of procurement of necessary drugs and ancillary products but will require Treasury and city finance to release the funds speedily so that this is avoided.

“The source should be identified so that people do not continuously drink from the contaminated source and spread the disease. All high density suburbs will be under surveillance,” Gomba said.

Community Water Alliance national coordinator Hildaberta Rwambiwa said residents had been reporting burst sewers and erratic water supply weeks before the outbreak occurred.

“We call upon the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission to investigate this flagrant violation of our fundamental right to life, health and clean water and ensure that there is substantial compliance by the city,” Rwambiwa said.

This is the fourth time in the past 15 years that cholera — a treatable disease which causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea and is lethal if not attended to promptly — has struck Zimbabwe.

Budiriro and Glen View suburbs, like many other Harare suburbs have been experiencing erratic water supplies and uncollected garbage.

The cholera outbreak in Harare comes as Gweru is currently battling to contain typhoid which has so far killed 10 people.

There is growing panic among ordinary Zimbabweans that the rising cases of cholera may signal a potential repeat of the disastrous outbreak of 2008 which killed more than 4 000 people nationwide.

This was arguably the worst outbreak of cholera in the country in living memory.

The outbreak was blamed on poor public health policies, as well as on the country’s dysfunctional water and sanitation infrastructure.

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

It is an extremely virulent disease that causes severe diarrhoea.

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

It takes between 12 hours and 5 days for a person to show cholera symptoms after ingesting contaminated food or water.

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

Previous researches have shown that the Zimbabwean government’s failure to avail potable water, proper sanitation or safe alternatives has driven the public into using contaminated sources of water, as well as defecating in open spaces.

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