HealthTalk: Cholera still in our midst, remain vigilant

The water-borne disease is still a menace and it is not surprising that many people are collapsing and dying in their homes from this treatable disease with no records.

Schools have closed and people are in the midst of a long Easter weekend where Christians remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

More than 500 people have since lost their lives from cholera since the first index cases of February 12, 2023 in Chegutu.

The water-borne disease is still a menace and it is not surprising that many people are collapsing and dying in their homes from this treatable disease with no records.

Southern Africa was hit by cholera with cases being reported in Zambia, Malawi, South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo to mention just, but a few.

Cholera is a bacterial disease that is caused by a gram-negative bacterium, vibrio cholerae. Two serogroups called O1 and O139 are responsible for cholera outbreaks.

When vibrio cholerae is ingested via contaminated water and food, it invades the intestinal mucosa which can cause severe diarrhea and vomiting within few hours to up to five days.

The dehydration which follows may be fulminant and can result in severe electrolyte imbalances, muscle cramps and even acute renal injury. It should be understood that cholera syndromes range from asymptomatic to cholera gravis and usually less than 30% of patients will present with notable symptoms. Case fatality rate should remain less than 3%

The government has issued a directive that all big gatherings should first get police clearance as we head towards the Easter holidays.

It reiterates that such gatherings should be supervised by health authorities, a measure which may sound bizarre in the eyes of the general population but very critical for public health.

It was a pity that we have many congregants on open spaces which include airport grounds, school grounds, bushes; football pitches where there are neither running water nor sanitation facilities.

How do such churches dispose their waste? What if there is one congregant with vibrio cholerae, the bacteria that cause cholera? One can harbour Cholera bacteria for many days while shedding in the stool for more than seven days while infecting many people.

Running water should be a must and it is not a secret that personal hygiene, clean water and proper sanitation are the key pillars of cholera control everywhere in the world.

Many churches are now complaining that government directive has come late and it may be difficult to observe what has been set by the authorities.

Government has not talked about new things at all; this is what health experts have always talked about for the past months if we are to succeed in containing cholera.

Health education has been undertaken on numerous media platforms which include both print and broadcast media, alas, some people close their ears.

Cholera vaccines have been enrolled in cholera hotspots like Kuwadzana; however, some people shunned the mitigation measures citing their own reasons.

How then can we contain the deadly diarrheal disease if we ignore all the necessary preventive measures we are expected to follow?

If churches do not follow the prescribed measures as outlined in the cabinet bulletin on Tuesday, then authorities are left with no options except to ban the prospective gatherings in the interest of public health.

Health is very important and the country cannot afford to continue losing people from preventable and treatable medieval diseases like cholera because of simply ignoring basic hygiene.

During Covid-19, all businesses came to a standstill when government introduced hard lockdowns for a long time and the country was saved.

Less than 6000 people succumbed to the deadly pandemic and all of us are here today. 

Report symptoms of cholera as soon as you suspect them and hydration is needed as soon as you start losing water.

Oral rehydration solution can be your first line of defence, but complicated cases may require hospital admission for intravenous fluids and drugs.

Observe good hygiene, get clean water and have sanitation facilities.

  • Dr Johannes Marisa is a medical practitioner, an educationist and a public health expert who can be reached on [email protected]

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