Cholera spreads to 58 of Zimbabwe’s 64 districts, situation ‘bad’ in Chiredzi

HARARE – The cholera outbreak has spread to 58 of Zimbabwe’s 64 districts, the health ministry said on Sunday as a shock picture was published online showing health workers administering drip on patients under a tree in Chiredzi.

Over 200 people have died from cholera since February 2023, according to the ministry of health, and over 16,000 people have contacted health facilities with symptoms.

Dr Aspect Maunganidze, the health ministry secretary, said there had been “a surge in cases” during the Christmas holidays. The latest districts reporting cases of cholera are Uzumba Maramba-Pfungwe, Mazowe, Mbire, Centenary, Kariba and Zvimba.

Cholera is spread by ingesting contaminated food or water, and while it often causes mild symptoms or none at all, serious cases cause acute diarrhoea and kill within hours if untreated. Access to safe water and sanitation are important to stop the disease, as well as vaccination and speedy treatment.

“Cholera has spread to 58 districts across the country following a surge in cases over the festive period as people were moving to and from the affected areas as well as floods caused by the rains,” Maunganidze said.

“The ministry continues to set up cholera treatment centres in areas where cases are being reported and setting up oral rehydration centres in the community.”

He urged Zimbabweans to exercise prevention measures such as washing hands before handling food and after visiting the toilet.

“We are also encouraging people not to use unsafe water from flooded and shallow wells, and also to boil all untreated water they use for domestic purposes including for drinking,” he added.

Zimbabweans reacted with outrage on Sunday after a picture was published showing health workers at one of the so-called “community rehydration centres” at Mapanza in Chiredzi administering intravenous therapy to a dozen patients sprawled on the ground under a tree. The drip was suspended from the tree branches.

Locals described the situation in Chiredzi’s Mkwasine area as “bad” and “terrible.” Red Cross workers were reportedly moving to the area on Sunday.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesman George Charamba said there was nothing irregular with the community-based treatment, swatting away criticism that the government had failed to invest in a functioning health service.

He wrote on X: “By the way, who bought the life-saving saline fluid? Who employed and meets salaries of the hard-working staff? The vehicle which ferried them to the affected areas?

“We thank the medical staff for creative field remedial intervention. Residents of never-never ivory towers stupidly would rather you had lost precious time ferrying distressed patients to a building called a clinic or hospital instead of this life-saving, prompt intervention.”

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