Zimbabwe bans large gatherings as threat of cholera outbreak grows
The Zimbabwean government has banned large gatherings in parts of the country and increased surveillance at ports of entry to curb a rise in cholera cases.
With 100 suspected deathsmost of them in September, and nearly 5,000 possible cases of the waterborne disease in more than 41 districts including Harare, authorities fear a repeat 2008 epidemic in which 4,000 people died.
“We are concerned that there will be an outbreak. We need to step up our measures,” said government health adviser Agnes Mahomva.
Manicaland, a province bordering Mozambique, has recorded the highest number of cases – more than 1,000 – according to Tuesday’s cabinet briefing, and the government has stepped up cholera surveillance at ports of entry to detect imported infections.
Other areas such as Bikita in Masvingo Province in southern Zimbabwe have been declared high-risk areas. Large gatherings have been banned in Buhera district to curb the spread of the disease.
No more than 50 people are allowed to attend funerals and no food may be served; People have also been told to avoid shaking hands, the government said last week.
The government also discouraged the public from attending open markets, social gatherings and outdoor church camps in Manicaland and Masvingo provinces, where sanitation facilities are likely to be lacking.
“We continue to encourage the public to be careful and follow procedures to maintain their hygiene,” Mahomva said, adding that the government is implementing a cholera control strategy across the country.
Zimbabwe constant water shortages and a dilapidated sanitation system have caused several cholera outbreaks in recent years. In some areas, particularly Harare and Bulawayo, people have to go without running water for months, while in the townships raw sewage is commonplace.
This has forced people to resort to unsafe water sources, including shallow wells that contain feces from broken sewage pipes.
In Chitungwiza, a commuter town 25km from Harare, the stench of raw sewage fills the air and people fear their children will become sick.
“We are tired of this wastewater, it keeps bursting. Our children are now getting sick. This has been going on for a long time,” said Charles Manika, 43.
His friend Morehickson Manatse, 37, who runs a food truck, also fears he could be selling contaminated food while flies inhabit the cooking area.
“We are asking the council to fix the problem because we don’t live like humans. They do not live in areas that are themselves contaminated with raw sewage,” Manatse said.
In Harare, the townships of Budiriro and Glen View, west of the capital, have been declared red zones because they are considered high-risk areas.
Although only 13 cases have been confirmed and three hospitalized in Harare, the local authority is recording an increase in suspected cases in the city.
“The number of suspected cases is increasing, but they are still predominantly diarrheal cases from the western suburbs. In Harare, we have only had one death since the outbreak,” said Prosper Chonzi, Harare City Council health director.
Chonzi admitted that the water quality in Harare “leaves a lot to be desired”.
“It is contaminated with a number of things, including sometimes feces. Until we address these issues, cholera outbreaks will continue to occur in Harare,” he said.
At an infectious disease hospital in Harare, Harare’s new mayor Ian Makone visits some of the cholera patients being treated.
Frail and barely able to sit up, patients turn to local authorities.
“It started with a runny stomach. I thought it was a normal bug, but after the tests I realized it was cholera. “I am under treatment, the nurses say I will recover,” said a patient who did not want to give his name.