ZIMBABWE, Glen View — On September 5, 2018, the first sign of the most recent cholera epidemic that ran rampant in Zimbabwe was noticed in a suburb called Glen View when 25 patients were admitted to the hospital in the capital city, Harare with symptoms. By September 13, Government had declared it a state of emergency and, the next day, it was declared a disaster.
Zimbabwe’s History with Cholera
Zimbabwe is no stranger to fighting a cholera epidemic, having fought off the largest outbreak that the country, and the continent, has ever seen in 2008. That outbreak caused about 100,000 cases and 4,000 deaths. According to the World Health Organisation, Zimbabwe has been fighting cholera outbreaks since the early 90s with other large outbreaks in 1999 and 2002 as well.
The deterioration of the health infrastructure has been a major factor in contributing to the cholera epidemic. It is suspected that sewage was leaking into boreholes and wells in Glen View and that was the source of the outbreak. However, the preventative measures put in place, as well as the level of preparation, have managed to keep the disease under control.
World Health Organization
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and Zimbabwe owned mobile network, Econet Wireless, played a major part in minimizing the number of cholera cases. The World Health Organisation coordinated with the Ministry of Health (MoHCC) by mobilizing international and national health experts to create a team to fight cholera. They are also helping to scale the response as well as survey the epidemic. The experts in WHO provided technical support to improve diagnostics and to strengthen the control of infection and prevention.
The Zimbabwe government wanted to introduce an oral cholera vaccine (OCV), and WHO showed their support by bringing a team of experts in OCV campaigns to Harare. Additionally, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) established a Cholera Treatment Centre (CTC) in Glen View, providing nurses to aid in the CTC. WHO then provided supplies containing oral rehydration solution, intravenous fluids and antibiotics for the treatment of the CTC patients.
Econet Wireless, headed by the Chief Executive David Mboweni began offering help to the public health officers who were fighting the epidemic. The company partnered with the Ministry of Health and Child Care’s Department of Epidemiology and Disease Control. They offered materials to aid in combating the spread of cholera to the health workers, such as case management materials, protective clothing and hand sterilizing materials.
Econet has also provided aqua tablets and antibiotic medication. The network also sent cholera alert messages to the public, which included information about how cholera is contracted, how it can be avoided and how it can be treated. Altogether, Econet donated $10 million towards eradicating cholera.
While the government of Zimbabwe has declared that the cholera epidemic has been curbed, health professionals in the country, as well as WHO cholera experts, say it has simply been temporarily averted. WHO says small outbreaks occur in the country annually. They advise the government to improve infrastructure and sanitation so that food safety practices in affected areas remain hygienic.
– Aquillina Ngowera