Cholera crisis: Harare water bombshell

Zimbabwe’s first cholera cases in the latest outbreak were reported in Chegutu in February last year before spreading to Harare and the rest of the country.

Health authorities have identified at least four bacteria that cause water borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery in some of Harare’s water sources as the cholera outbreak that has gripped Zimbabwe for close to a year intensifies.

Zimbabwe’s first cholera cases in the latest outbreak were reported in Chegutu in February last year before spreading to Harare and the rest of the country.

The authorities have been battling to bring the outbreak under control and the number of cholera cases shot up during the festive season with some of Harare’s high density suburbs emerging as the new epicentres.

Health and Child Care minister Douglas Mombeshora said the four bacteria that have been identified in Harare were “quite bad”.

 “The four types of bacteria that we identified in wells across Harare are escherichia coli (e-coli), bacteria that are passed in faeces, where you find that bacteria, it is likely that the water is contaminated with faeces,” Mombeshora told journalists yesterday.

“The second bacterium is gardia lamblia, which is responsible for dysentery, the third one is salmonella typhi, responsible for typhoid.

“The last one is vibrio cholerae which is responsible for cholera.

“Those four have been picked up which is quite bad as the water is very contaminated.”

Mombeshora said the government had launched ‘Operation Chenesa Harare’ as part of measures to bring the cholera outbreak under control. The operation started on Friday and will end on January 12.

“This has been necessitated by the deplorable state of waste management in Harare owing to the continuous breakdown of refuse collection trucks and moreso, the accumulation of refuse during the festive season,” he said.

The minister said he hoped that garbage would be cleared within the seven-day period with a total of 122,2 tonnes collected at the start of the operation.

“We are moving on to the next stage where we want to provide clean potable water and the government is moving in to mobilise resources to procure water treatment chemicals which will be supplied to the city of Harare so they can provide more potable water,” Mombeshora said.

“Currently, I am informed that the supply of potable water has dropped from 350 megalitres per day to 200 megalitres per day, so it has to improve,” he said.

Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services minister Jenfan Muswere told the same press conference that government was intervening because Harare City Council was failing to deliver services.

“This (operation) has been necessitated by the challenges or failure or leadership deficit from the City of Harare as a council, which has failed to provide the requisite water infrastructure and health services across Harare Metropolitan province,” Muswere said.

Itai Rusike, the Community Working Group on Health executive director, said provision of clean water was key in the fight against cholera.

 “Cholera remains a public health problem in predominantly overcrowded areas and public gatherings where access to clean and safe water and sanitation remain a challenge,” Rusike said.

 “The oral cholera vaccine should be deployed to the identified hotspots and the government should seriously consider nationwide cholera vaccination.

“This should be combined with sustainable long-term water sanitation and hygiene interventions to prevent recurrence of cholera outbreaks.”

Rusike also called for community involvement and ownership for effective responsibility in society.

“We need to increase cholera awareness and prevention at community level and this should include early detection, referral of suspected cholera cases through community-based surveillance,” he added

As of Friday, Zimbabwe had recorded 15 571 cholera cases, and 5 841 of them were from Harare.

The country has recorded 280 suspected cholera deaths with 65 of them confirmed since the outbreak began.

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