The
Zimbabwe
Letters

     
  Disease outbreaks unmask shortcomings of Harare city councils  
     
 
Inasmuch as the city fathers and various health institutions made frantic efforts to contain the diseases of cholera, dysentery and typhoid, the outbreaks laid bare the shortcomings of the Harare City Council and Chitungwiza municipality. Their preparedness especially in high-density suburbs such as Mbare, Mufakose Mabvuku among others was a far cry from being satisfactory. The sudden bouts of the twin diseases resulted in over a dozen deaths, most of them children under the age of five.

The outbreaks were not publicized in time leaving the majority of the urban population in the dark and prone to increased infections. Last week, a cholera epidemic raged through Harare and Chitungwiza claiming lives and left dozens of people hospitalised. Confusion reigned supreme as residents panicked following the outbreak with many households resorting to boiling tap water for drinking. Others made sure family food was consumed whilst hot to reduce chances of contamination.

This comes at a time when the Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ) and the World Health Organization (WHO) condemned drinking water in Harare, saying it was of a low quality with very low concentrations of chlorine that was made worse by high levels of sediment impurities. The quality of water, it was understood by experts was compromised by worn out and broken pipes that were exposing water making it prone to contamination by water borne diseases. As a result of burst pipes, the quality of water also ran the risk of contamination during this rain season when rubbish that is collected from the city's streets and by-ways can percolate through holes in the pipes.

In Harare last week, the climax of the cholera scourge sent shock waves amongst the people when it wiped an entire family at the Beatrice Infectious Diseases Hospital. So far in less than two weeks since the disease came on the scene, at least 15 people have succumbed due to a combination of lack of medical attention or ignorance of the disease's symptoms. Amongst the victims were children, mothers, fathers and grandmothers.

Late last year, the twin cities were again caught unaware by the sudden bouts of diseases. They were again rocked by twin infections of dysentery and diarrhoea, which just like cholera claimed more than a dozen lives in a short space of time. More than 200 people were hospitalized after contracting the deadly Salmonella poisoning that is most notoriously spread through contaminated chicken and eggs including a wide range of other modes of transmission.

Adults usually survive diarrhoea caused by salmonella but children because of their weak and vulnerable immune system; the effects are very swift leaving little time for medical reaction. According to medical experts, most of them die as a result of severe dehydration.
The diseases together with cholera can spread through infected food and water. Worse still, cholera can be aggravated by the consumption of fruits such as mangoes that are in abundance during the rain season. Over the years, people have always been encouraged to clean fruits before eating them but despite the warnings cholera outbreaks have been claiming innumerable victims as a result of negligence.

The dysentery outbreak was attributed to residents fetching water for domestic use from unprotected wells and rivers, which in some instances have been polluted by sewage. Many people found rivers and makeshift wells alternative sources of water in the wake of erratic and crippling shortages of clean piped water. Dysentery, which is characterized by blood stained stool, can kill if a patient does not quickly seek treatment or can cause some perforation in the intestines, resulting in long term health complications.