Zimbabwe declares emergency after cholera claims dozens of lives

Friday, November 17, 2023


Zimbabwe declares emergency after cholera claims dozens of lives

Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, has declared a state of emergency in response to a catastrophic cholera epidemic that has already claimed dozens of lives and resulted in over 7,000 suspected cases.

The city is plagued by the 2008 cholera outbreak, which resulted in a staggering death toll.

Health officials are facing severe hurdles in dealing with the spike in cases. The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) reports a scarcity of health staff and crucial supplies needed to stop disease spread. The situation is especially critical in Harare’s high-density suburb of Kuwadzana, which has become the epicenter of the current outbreak, contributing to nearly half of the reported cases.

Cholera, an acute diarrheal infection caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, is usually spread by the intake of contaminated food or water. The absence of potable water has worsened the issue, making it harder to properly limit the outbreak.

The parallels established between the current epidemic and the horrific events of 2008 have increased public worry. The 2008 outbreak killed nearly 4,000 people and sickened at least 100,000 more, creating a collapse in basic services across the country.

Harare’s Mayor, Ian Makone, declared a state of emergency in response to the developing crisis, emphasising the gravity of the situation. According to the Ministry of Health, there are 7,398 suspected cases, 50 confirmed deaths, and 109 persons who are now hospitalised.

The IFRC cautions that the illness is quickly spreading, impacting 45 out of 62 districts and all ten provinces in Zimbabwe. Concerns have been raised that the outbreak may spread beyond the country’s borders, leading neighbouring nations such as Malawi, South Africa, and Mozambique to stay on high alert.

Zimbabwe’s health minister has proposed efforts to limit the epidemic, including the elimination of street food sellers and the delivery of potable water by trucks. A rapid and coordinated reaction is critical to averting a repetition of the horrific events of 2008 and protecting the health and well-being of the population, not just in Zimbabwe but also throughout the region. The scenario highlights the critical need for foreign assistance to handle the current health crisis as well as to develop long-term public health infrastructure in impacted communities.

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