The Mpumalanga and Limpopo Health departments are on high alert after a cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe killed over 30 people and left nearly 4,000 hospitalised in the past 11 days, says a Sunday Times report. International aid agencies are helping with medicine, volunteer services and clean water for the affected communities.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases said there was no reason to panic. The institute’s Lucille Blumberg said most of South Africa’s water supply systems were good. “Dealing with cholera is about good hygiene. This is a disease which is perfectly treatable,” she said. Blumberg said cholera was not transferable through casual contact and that it spread, for the most part, through drinking contaminated water. She said border officials were on alert and hospitals were prepared.
Mandla Zwane, director for communicable disease control in Mpumalanga, said given the high volume of movement of people between Zimbabwe and South Africa, the province’s health officials had been placed on high alert with their outbreak response teams on standby.
“We have reporting systems in place to alert us to any increases of diarrhoea cases. Our health-care facilities provide us daily feedback on whether they are receiving patients with diarrhoea. The systems allow us to detect if there is a sudden increase in such cases and respond as needed.”
The World Health Organisation has warned that the water-borne disease is spreading rapidly in the capital Harare. News24 reports that the WHO said it was “scaling up its response” to contain the outbreak.
At least one of the deaths was recorded outside the capital, in the southeast district of Masvingo.
“When cholera strikes a major metropolis such as Harare, we need to work fast to stop the spread of the disease before it gets out of control,” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said.
A WHO situation report revealed that first-line antibiotics were struggling to treat the disease, which has spread to five of the country’s 10 provinces. “There is resistance to the first-line medicine,” the report said, with tests suggesting antibiotic drugs ciprofloxacin and ceftriaxone could be ineffective and the alternative drug azithromycin was not available. “Relevant medicines should be purchased as a matter of urgency as soon as resistance patterns have been ascertained,” it recommended.
The report says the cholera outbreak, first detected in the township of Glen View outside Harare on 5 September, prompted the health ministry to declare an emergency in the city. Authorities have banned public gatherings in Harare while health ministry personnel are supervising burials of victims. The University of Zimbabwe, the country’s largest, said it had postponed indefinitely this year’s graduation ceremony which was due on Friday following the cholera outbreak.
The WHO reported that health personnel face shortages of medicine and intravenous fluid as well as sewer blockages, lack of protective clothing and erratic water supplies.
The report says cholera outbreaks have occurred regularly in Zimbabwe’s cities where supplies of potable water and sanitation facilities are scarce. Informal housing areas without running water have mushroomed, and basic infrastructure has collapsed due to years of neglect. Tests from some wells and boreholes showed water was contaminated with cholera and typhoid-causing bacteria.
The report says Zimbabwe, which was ruled by Robert Mugabe from independence in 1980 until his ousting last year, suffered its worst cholera outbreak in 2008. A total of 4,000 people died and at least 100,000 people fell ill. President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who succeeded Mugabe, has pledged to tackle the current outbreak.
Meanwhile, a cholera outbreak in Niger has killed 55 people and sickened thousands near the country’s border with Nigeria since July, the UN has said, warning that the disease “has spread” to new regions.
News24 reports that the epicentre of the outbreak is the Maradi region of the country, where 98% of cases have been registered, the UN humanitarian agency (OCHA) said in an update. As of 10 September, it said a total of 55 people had died of cholera, while 2,752 people had been taken ill.
The outbreak, which started in the Madaruonfa prefecture of Maradi in July, “has spread to the regions of Dosso, Tahoua and Zinder“, the OCHA briefing said.
A previous toll released in mid-August was 22 dead and 1,351 cases of the disease.