HARARE, Zimbabwe — These days, Catherine Mangosho locks her 3-year-old grandson at home for hours on end in an attempt to protect him from a deadly cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe.
The virulent bacterial disease is killing young and old in the southern African country, and health authorities have reported more than 150 suspected deaths and more than 8,000 suspected cases since February.
Cholera has often broken out in Zimbabwe in recent years with deadly consequences and has surged and spread again over the past month, driven by sometimes dire sanitary conditions in poor, abandoned townships and neighborhoods in the capital, Harare. , and other places.
Many, like Mangosho, 50, fear his family will be next.
He points to a group of barefoot children playing street soccer near his house. The ball made from plastic bread wrappers often falls into sewage ponds. The children pick it up and continue with the game.
“Those kids are playing with fire,” he said. “Last week we buried a child from this area. One day he was playing soccer in the street like these kids. He fell ill during the night and died in hospital. They said he was cholera.”
Since the start of the latest outbreak, Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health has recorded 8,087 suspected cases of cholera and 1,241 laboratory-confirmed cases. He said there have been 152 suspected cholera deaths and 51 laboratory-confirmed deaths.
The country of 15 million people has been recording more than 500 cases a week since late October, the highest rate since February, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said. The group issued an emergency appeal this month.
Cholera is a waterborne disease caused by ingesting contaminated water. food or water and can cause death within hours if untreated; however, it is usually easily treated by rehydrating patients if cases are caught early.
The World Health Organization has said cholera cases in Africa are rising exponentially amid a global surge. The African continent accounted for 21% of cases and 80% of deaths worldwide between 2014 and 2021, according to the WHO.
The outbreak in Zimbabwe is spreading from urban to rural areas and putting more than 10 million people at risk, including more than five million children, the Red Cross Federation said. He said the main causes were poor hygiene, but also a lack of awareness and religious practices that include self-proclaimed prophets ordering members of the sect to rely on prayer and items such as holy water instead of seeking treatment. doctor.
Cholera is now in all 10 provinces of the country, Health Minister Douglas Mombeshora said at a clinic in Harare’s Kuwadzana township this weekend. At the Kuwadzana Polyclinic, cholera patients lined up in a special tent prepared for them and upon arrival received a cup of rehydrating sugar and a saline solution.
“We have had an outbreak in urban areas,” Mombeshora said, adding that seven of the 13 people who died in Harare were from Kuwadzana. “We are approaching the rainy season and the conditions scare us. We have to take it as an emergency.”
Conditions in areas like Kuwadzana and neighboring Glen View make them fertile ground for infections.
In busy shopping malls, flies crawl over piles of uncollected trash. Raw sewage from burst pipes flows through streets and sometimes into backyards. Many people have dug ditches to divert the flow away from their homes.
Prolonged local government failures mean many residents go months without tap water, forcing them to dig shallow wells and boreholes that have also been contaminated by sewage.
Joyleen Nyachuru, a water, sanitation and hygiene officer at the non-governmental organization Community Water Alliance, and also a resident of the Glen View municipality, said she fears a repeat of what happened in 2008, when more than 4,000 people died in the worst outbreak of Zimbabwe.
“Some don’t even know the signs and symptoms of cholera, so people simply get sick at home without knowing exactly what is happening to them. It’s terrifying,” said Nyachuru, who recently delivered a petition to council offices signed by dozens of residents demanding clean drinking water and an end to the appallingly unsanitary conditions.
In Glen View, Mangosho lives in fear every day. He lets his grandson out just for a while to play while he watches closely.
“The whole neighborhood has sick children. Some, including adults, are dying,” she stated. “We are afraid.”
AP News Africa: https://apnews.com/hub/africa