THERE are fears of an imminent outbreak of the deadly typhoid disease, following widespread incidences of dysentery in Harare’s densely populated suburbs where people are drinking water from unprotected sources.
BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
The conditions that spread typhoid are the same as the ones that spread dysentery.
Health officials last week said perennial water shortages, coupled with discontinuation of water supplies to defaulters had forced residents to get water from unprotected sources.
Suburbs that have been affected include Kambuzuma, Mbare, Budiriro and Kuwadzana.
The officials said Kuwadzana so far was the worst affected as scores of residents in the suburb had visited public health centres exhibiting signs and symptoms of dysentery, which is highly contagious.
The residents blame the city fathers for failing to supply running water for domestic purposes, forcing many of them to use water from unorthodox sources.
City council health director, Prosper Chonzi confirmed the outbreak of dysentery, saying at least 122 cases had been reported in the last two weeks in Harare. He added that there had been an increase in people coming to the city clinics for treatment.
But other health officials believe the figure was conservative, as some people were not seeking treatment from city clinics.
The director however downplayed the issue saying it was not yet an “outbreak”, adding that the increase was due to the “seasonal nature of the condition”.
“The figures for dysentery do not constitute an outbreak yet, as they are still below our thresholds. This can be attributed to the seasonal nature of this condition. We tend to get more cases of the disease in summer as the rains start falling,” said Chonzi. “However, we do acknowledge that there has been an increase in the numbers coming to our units. [The] most affected area is Kuwadzana.”
He added: “I would like to emphasise the importance of the provision of good, safe drinking water in adequate quantities all the time, good sanitation practices and good personal hygiene. People should continue boiling or treating water from whatever source before using it for domestic purposes.”
So far 382 people have died from diarrhoea since the beginning of the year.
According to a weekly surveillance report produced by the Ministry of Health and Child Care recently, the cumulative figure for cases of diarrhoea reached at least 420 130.
For the week ending October 10, 14 deaths were recorded in one week and of that number, six were children under the age of five years.
Three of the deaths were from Harare Central Hospital, while the rest were from Bulawayo, Beitbridge, Masvingo, Chikomba and Mashonaland East.
A senior official with the Zimbabwe Medical Association (Zima) said there was need to strictly quarantine patients so as to prevent a further spread of dysentery.
“Dysentery is highly contagious and may be fatal if left untreated. Some of the symptoms include a sudden onset of high fever and chills, abdominal pain, vomitting and dehydration,” he said.
The official said the situation was most dire in the densely populated areas as it was easy for people to pass on the disease.
“An infected person will pass on the bacteria in their stools when they go to the toilet, and can infect their surroundings and if it is a communal toilet, many will most likely get the disease,” he said.
The official said some patients would develop liver complications while for children under the age of one, fatality could not be ruled out, especially if they become dehydrated.
“In more developed countries the disease is not an issue but in countries like Zimbabwe, dysentery can be deadly,” he said.
Cholera, another water-borne disease claimed over 4 000 lives in 2008/9, while over 90 000 people contracted the deadly disease.