Govt, councils to blame for cholera deaths — lawyers

The global health agency said upgrading of the cholera treatment centres would lead to increased bed capacity through expanding the facilities to accommodate a larger number of cholera patients

HUMAN rights lawyers say government and local authorities must be held accountable for cholera deaths as the water-borne disease spreads across the country claiming lives.

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) accused authorities of “dereliction of duty” in the handling of the cholera outbreak.

Zimbabwe is grappling with a third cholera outbreak this year, with cases having been confirmed in all the 10 provinces.

According to the Health and Child Care ministry, Zimbabwe has recorded 200 cholera-related deaths and 130 hospitalisations since February 2023 when the outbreak first surfaced.

“The ongoing cholera outbreak is a chilling reminder of the devastating consequences of failing to provide necessities to the people. The government must act swiftly and effectively to protect lives and prevent further tragedy,” the ZLHR said.

The rights lawyers expressed outrage over preventable deaths from a “medieval disease” in Zimbabwe.

“It is a staggering indictment on both local and central governments that Zimbabwe is still haunted by a medieval disease like cholera,” the lawyers said.

They said officials should be held accountable for their “failure to invest in and adequately manage basic water, sanitation infrastructure and public health facilities”.

ZLHR criticised the sluggish response to the crisis, citing lack of access to clean water, sanitation and proper medical care in affected communities.

They warned that “this unacceptable failure of leadership” constituted a violation of the government’s constitutional obligations and international human rights commitments.

“The failure by central and local governments to swiftly respond to the cholera epidemic through providing basic health services, medical treatment and services, clean running water and sanitary facilities to people, is an unacceptable failure of leadership and represents a clear failure by local authorities and government to uphold their constitutional obligations as provided in the Constitution and other regional and international instruments,” ZLHR said.

The rights lawyers urged the government to significantly increase budgetary allocations for water, sanitation and hygiene.

“To arrest the cholera epidemic and prevent recurrent outbreaks of the primitive disease, ZLHR implores local and central governments to seriously embrace their social and economic rights, obligations provided in the Constitution and guarantee progressive realisation of the right to healthcare, the right to safe, clean and potable water for everyone and the right to a clean environment that is not harmful to people’s health or their well-being,” the organisation said.

As cholera spreads, across the country, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has intervened by setting up cholera treatment centres to save lives.

“This move aims to improve access to critical care and prevent further deaths and spread of the disease in vulnerable communities,” WHO said.

The global health agency said upgrading of the cholera treatment centres would lead to increased bed capacity through expanding the facilities to accommodate a larger number of cholera patients.

Health and Child Care minister Douglas Mombeshora said there was a need to improve community engagement to end the scourge.

“We recently received equipment from WHO and we need to identify places where these are needed the most so that we distribute them and help fight the outbreak,” he said.

WHO representative to Zimbabwe, Jean-Marie Dangou added: “These upgrades are crucial to ensure timely and effective care for cholera patients in rural areas. By expanding treatment capacity, improving hygiene and equipping healthcare workers, we can save lives and contain the outbreak.”

The water-borne disease, which spreads through drinking water or eating food contaminated with the cholera bacterium and causes severe diarrhoea and vomiting, is now endemic in the country.

Government has responded by banning gatherings in cholera hotspots as it seeks to arrest the spread of the water-borne disease.

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