Five cholera deaths recorded in Zimbabwe amid fears of new epidemic

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Five deaths from cholera have been reported in the past week in the Zimbabwean provinces of Mashonaland West and Midlands, raising fears that the onset of the rains could lead to a repeat of the cholera epidemic that claimed thousands of lives in the past year.

The five deaths resulted from 117 cases reported in the Mashonaland West, Manicaland and Midlands provinces since last month. The provinces of Masvingo province has also reported cases.

The Zimbabwean Health and Child Welfare Secretary, Gerald Gwinji, said on Tuesday that most of the deaths and cases occurred among religious sects that do not accept medical treatment. "Most of the cases were recorded [...] among religious objectors, who for a long time have been reluctant to seek medical attention," he said. Health experts have warned that with the rainy season just beginning around the country, cholera could get out of hand if safe water is not made widely available.

Aid agencies have been warning that another outbreak of the disease was very likely, as the heavy summer rains cause cholera, which is water-borne, to be transmitted more easily. “The fundamentals of the last epidemic are still there. Water is only sporadically available, and sewerage reticulation and refuse collection are only partially working,” a spokeswoman for the UNICEF said.

Officials from aid agencies predicted that the number of current cholera infections in Zimbabwe will decline to around 60,000. “It’s not the catastrophe that it was last year but it’s still a big epidemic of an easily preventable disease that should never have been allowed to happen,” an unnamed agency doctor said. The decrease has been anticipated after large amounts of water purification tablets, communal water tanks, and boreholes were installed in water systems as part of an operation to make water safer to drink.

Spokeswoman Tsitsi Singizi of the United Nations Children's Fund told the Voice of America news agency that the government and international or non-governmental aid agencies have been doing all they can to prevent a repeat of last year's deadly epidemic.

A recent cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe claimed 4,288 lives from late 2008 to mid-2009, the worst outbreak seen on the African continent for fifteen years after the collapse of sanitation and water systems throughout the country.