Harare, January 9, 2012: Health experts from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have hailed Harare authorities’ response to the typhoid outbreak which was detected in October last year, describing it as a model for other countries facing similar epidemics.
“The city of Harare had a fast response to this outbreak which was really a plus in this investigation. From the day they learned there was a potential outbreak, they sent a team to the field within one day…other countries can learn that outbreak detection surveillance can direct the support and supplies needed for outbreak response,” said Katie O'Connor, Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer (EISO) in the Division of Food-borne, Waterborne & Environmental Diseases at CDC headquarters in Atlanta.
O'Connor and fellow epidemiologist, Dr. Rachel Slayton, were in Harare since mid December assisting the typhoid response team with epidemiologic investigation, improved surveillance, water testing, and provision of laboratory supplies. They are working closely with the Harare City Health Department and represent the USG in technical meetings.
According to the weekly epidemiological bulletin (number 143) compiled by the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization since the outbreak of typhoid was noted on October 10, 2011, 76 new cases were reported in the week ending December 25th with 90 previously unreported cases emerging in the same week. The report says a cumulative 1 019 cases and one death was reported with Dzivaresekwa 3 suburb reporting majority of cases.
“Typhoid fever is an under recognized problem because it is extremely hard to diagnose because it can mimic other diseases like malaria or meningitis. So because of that, detection is lower than its actual presence in the world,” said O’Connor. She and Slayton have worked on numerous CDC outbreak response teams in the United States and throughout the world.
In addition to their routine work, the two epidemiological officers gave presentations to Harare city authorities, noting the importance of access to safe water.
“The issues surrounding typhoid fever is the ability to have access to safe water or not. So trying to target that one problem - access to safe water - requires a lot of support from the government, NGOS and partners to provide communities to access to safe water. In addition, typhoid fever is hard to clinically diagnose, and in some rural areas lack of treatment can lead to some serious complications,” said O’Connor shortly before the team’s departure from Harare on Monday.
They hailed the support received from both the city authorities and government.
"They have been wonderful. There has been so much support from the city of Harare, from the Ministry of CHW, and general support from anyone we've met along the way. People have been super friendly, welcoming, and everyone has been so excited to have us in their country and so excited to have us see all the beautiful things here," said O’Connor. "Everyone worked really hard within the country - you could tell everyone was really dedicated to their work to help the community of Harare."
CDC’ mission is to collaborate to create the expertise, information, and tools that people and communities need to protect their health– through health promotion, prevention of disease, injury and disability, and preparedness for new health threats.
“We are very pleased with this collaboration between CDC/Atlanta and health authorities in Zimbabwe,” said Dr. Peter Kilmarx, Director CDC/Zimbabwe, “We stand ready to respond to other health emergencies as need arise.”
In Zimbabwe, (CDC/Zimbabwe) was established in 2000 and works to support and sharpen the policies, guidelines, standards, and programs of the Zimbabwean government in their fight against HIV and AIDS (with funding from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)), and other diseases through promoting the application of scientific findings. The office is staffed by highly trained epidemiologists, medical officers, public health specialists, and laboratory specialists who provide essential technical and administrative assistance to implement health programs in Zimbabwe- ZimPAS © January 2012.
In picture: O’Connor and officials from CDC and Ministry of Health drawing out water from a shallow well to test for the presence of E. coli in Dzivarasekwa, Harare.
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