Zimbabwe scrambles to contain cholera outbreak as death toll rises

Patients await treatment at a makeshift cholera clinic in Harare. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

Patients await treatment at a makeshift cholera clinic in Harare. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

The death toll in Zimbabwe’s current cholera outbreak has risen to 28 people with government banning public gatherings in the capital of Harare as a precautionary measure.

The ban was announced last week just as the main opposition, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was getting ready for the party’s 19th anniversary celebrations where leader Nelson Chamisa was going to be inaugurated as the “people’s president”.

READ MORE: Zimbabwe on tenterhooks as opposition Chamisa prepares ‘inauguration’

Chamisa narrowly lost to President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the country’s first election since the ousting of long-time ruler Robert Mugabe last year.

The MDC claimed that the results of the July 30 elections were rigged but its legal bid to have the result overturned due to alleged electoral fraud and irregularities was rejected by the Constitutional Court.

Party spokesperson Jacob Mafume said in a statement that the party was forced to call off its rally, planned for Saturday, but that government was using the outbreak as an excuse to derail MDC’s plans.

“It is clear that the government is abusing the cholera epidemic for political purposes and puts into serious doubt that the ban of our commemoration event was out of genuine concern.”

READ MORE: Zimbabwe’s opposition copies the Kenyan playbook

The outbreak was first detected earlier this month in Glen View township outside of Harare and now the capital has been inundated by the outbreak, with more than 3 000 cases reported and government declaring a state of emergency.

Health Minister Obadiah Moyo told state-owned Sunday Mail that many cases of illnesses were found to be drug-resistant meaning that new antibiotics had to be approved to tackle the outbreak.

“Although I cannot say we have contained the disease as yet, we are moving swiftly in all provinces of the country,” Moyo said.

Cholera is an infection caused by the Vibrio cholerae bacterium and is spread when contaminated water or food is consumed. When the disease is drug resistant, this means that the bacteria is not controlled or killed by antibiotics that are generally used to treat it.

Moyo also said government is working on removing accumulated trash in the capital, repairing sewer pipes and stopping street vendors from selling food in efforts to contain the disease.

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube has posted an appeal on Twitter for people to contribute to the government’s “emergency crowdfund” as a means “to further efforts to fight cholera to date.”

This appeal was met with backlash on social media with Zimbabweans criticising the state for misusing public funds and now not being able to respond to the outbreak.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced last week that it would expand its operations in the country in order to scale up its response to the outbreak.

The organisation says it will provide cholera treatment centres with kits consisting of a oral rehydration solution, intravenous fluids and antibiotics.

Zimbabwe experienced the largest cholera epidemic between August 2008 and June 2009 which claimed more than 4 000 lives. This outbreak started in the Mashonaland East province and spread throughout the country until all 10 provinces had reported cases.  

Mashadi Kekana

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