South African typhoid outbreak protest dispersed with rubber bullets

Thursday, September 22, 2005

In the wake of an outbreak of typhoid-related illnesses in Delmas, north-east South Africa, a protest that forced local council members to lock themselves indoors has been broken up by police.

Rubber bullets were used in an effort to disperse the crowd which was calling for the town's council to resign over the failure to provide adequate and safe services. Authorities report that 4 people are have died from typhoid and over 526 have been stricken since August 22. However, a report by the Treatment Action Campaign (Tac) states that 49 have died. A local undertaker was quoted as saying that burials have increased since the outbreak and that he buried 14 people on the weekend of 17 September alone.

An outbreak of the current magnitude suggests waterborne spread [1], although health authorities deny finding Salmonella typhi (the causative agent of typhoid fever) in the town's drinking water. Sanitation services in Delmas, only 70 km from Johannesburg, are primitive. In many areas human waste is transported in open buckets and it is believed this may have contaminated the water supply.