Zimbabwe merely ‘postpones’ cholera outbreak

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Picture: AFP
Picture: AFP

Despite a declaration by the government that the current cholera outbreak has been tamed, public health professionals in Zimbabwe say the outbreak has merely been “postponed” as the measures put in place are “stop-gap” solutions.

On Friday the health minister said raw sewage was seeping into drinking water resources for some residents in Harare.

Neighbouring countries such as Zambia and South Africa have been on high alert since the outbreak.

A contaminated borehole in Glen View suburb is believed to be the source of the latest outbreak and treatment centres have been set up while authorities scrounge for solutions.

“The numbers are coming down, even of those seeking treatment and deaths ... but this does not mean the problem has ended. As long as we don’t have a lasting solution to access to clean water we have just postponed the outbreak to a later date because drinking water and sewerage will keep mixing up underground,” said a health worker at one of the cholera treatment centres in Harare.

There are growing fears that forex problems in Zimbabwe will affect the importation of water treatment chemicals for several municipalities.

Marondera Municipality, eastern Harare, is running out of water treatment chemicals as officials say they are left with treatment supplies for one week.

The municipality, whose plight mirrors the situation in other urban centres, is already rationing water as it is unable to meet the demand for water, putting into perspective the need to overhaul Zimbabwe’s water and sanitation system.

Marondera town engineer Christopher Chineka said during a tour of the waterworks in the town this week that “by next week we will not be having any stocks” of chemicals to treat water.

The government says as much as $64m (R916m) is required for short-, medium- and long-term solutions to the cholera crisis. Only about half of this amount has been secured.

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According to the health ministry the outbreak has claimed 32 lives, mostly in Harare, while as many as 6 500 cases have been reported.

Health attendants at Glen View Polyclinic complained of poorly resourced working conditions and problematic facilities. There was no flushing water or toilet paper in one of the patient toilets. There were also no proper facilities for children, said a volunteer with an NGO.

The Zimbabwe Medical Association confirmed that resources such as gloves were in short supply.

With the help of donations and interventions from local and international companies, government institutions and other partners, Zimbabwe has provided oral rehydration salts, linen savers, water treatment tablets and awareness literature. Boreholes are also being drilled to provide interim relief.

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