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Cholera outbreak a wake-up call

Indications that the cholera outbreak that has killed 49 people out of 6 643 suspected cases countrywide has been contained must not lull the country into complacency.

THE STANDARD COMMENT

This is the time to put in place measures to ensure that outbreaks of mediaeval diseases such as cholera and typhoid are confined to the past.

Since 2008, thousands of Zimbabweans have been dying unnecessarily because of these diseases that are caused by decay of urban infrastructure and deteriorating living conditions countrywide.

In the latest tragedy, on September 11 the government declared a state of emergency after deaths were recorded mostly in Harare due to the cholera outbreak.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, an estimated 22% of the suspected and confirmed cases are children under the age of five.

At least 98% of the cases have been recorded in Harare and the most affected suburbs are Glen View, Budiriro, Mbare, Glen Norah and Waterfalls.

Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East, Manicaland, Midlands and Masvingo are some of the provinces that have recorded cases of cholera so far.

The good news is that following interventions by the government, local authorities, business and non-governmental organisations, new cases have been going down.

However, the interventions have been focused on addressing symptoms rather than the root cause of the problem.

Substantial resources have been pulled together for health and hygiene promotion, the supply of clean water and fixing of blocked sewer lines.

The government will also soon embark on a vaccination programme to protect those at risk of cholera amid reports that the disease is showing signs of resistance to the first line of treatment.

Alternative treatment — azithromycin — is not readily available, which puts the lives of patients at serious risk.

It is, therefore, incumbent upon the government to formulate long-term interventions, which cannot be addressed by the recently launched $63 million appeal.

Harare’s water and sewer infrastructure decay is a time bomb and the ongoing cholera outbreak must jolt the authorities into taking concrete steps to address the problem.

The capital city’s rapid expansion has not been matched by development in infrastructure, which has seen most residents in new residential areas going without running water for decades.

Local authorities have not been able to invest adequately in capital projects for the past 20 or so years and the results of the neglect are there for everyone to see.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF promised urban renewal, especially in areas such as Harare’s oldest suburb Mbare, if it won the July 30 elections.

The government has to start rolling out plans towards that objective, not only to demonstrate that it was not just campaign rhetoric, but to save lives.

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