Cholera claims young lives in Zimbabwe

By Tapuwa L. Mutseyekwa

HARARE, Zimbabwe, 15 December 2008 - Sarah Masarakufa is still in mourning. Her two-year-old daughter, Shumirai, succumbed to cholera two months ago.

"She was my only daughter and she was beautiful," said Ms. Masarakufa, as she showed photographs of Shumirai. "I know I did all I could to try and save her life, but she died."

Cholera has claimed close to 200 lives in Budiriro, a suburb of Harare, over the last three months. Shumirai was among the first causalities.

Deadly water

Ms. Masarakufa watched Shumirai endure a week of pain and suffering. When the prescribed medicines did not help, she watched helplessly as her daughter grew weaker.

"I went to the clinic, to a private doctor and she died in hospital," said Ms. Masarakufa.

Since August, 783 people from across Zimbabwe have died from cholera. Budiriro has had the most cases by far.

Cholera is a treatable disease, but in Zimbabwe it is spreading quickly due to a run down health system, a lack of adequate clean water sources and a poor waste disposal and management infrastructure.

In Ms. Masarakufa's case, she explained that she was forced to draw water from a shallow well when their running water stopped working. Tragically for Shumirai, the well was too close to a sewer system, and the water was rife with disease.

Efforts to both treat and prevent

UNICEF Zimbabwe has moved swiftly to minimize deaths due to cholera. It has trucked in safe water, provided water treatment tablets, oral rehydration salts and cholera treatment centres.

UNICEF has also worked on efforts to rid the capital city of the refuse that has been piling up there.

"Treatment alone is not sufficient if people are to return to their homes, which are surrounded by unmanaged waste," said UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe Roeland Monasch. "We know these dumpsters form the perfect breeding ground for cholera and it is necessary to get rid of them."