Cholera fears in typhoid-hit Harare

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by Peter Marimudza Monday 30 January 2012

HARARE – City health officials and independent doctors have warned of a possible cholera outbreak in Harare, already grappling with a typhoid outbreak that has infected more than 800 people over the past two weeks. The independent Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights said the absence of clean drinking water, collapsed sewer systems and poor standards of hygiene in most Harare’s overcrowded working class suburbs provided a fertile ground for both cholera and typhoid.

The association also criticised what it called lack of urgency by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe’s coalition government in responding to the typhoid outbreak.

Harare City health director Prosper Chonzi, who has blamed the typhoid outbreak on contaminated food sold in the open in the city’s low-income suburbs, was quoted by official media as saying conditions in the city were conducive for an “outbreak of cholera anytime”.

"We can have cholera anytime. The environment is conducive for the outbreak. We need to be proactive and play our part," said Chonzi, a trained medical doctor.

He said as part of efforts to prevent a possible outbreak of cholera as well as curb the spread of typhoid, municipal officials would inspect hotels, restaurants and open air food spots and order the closure of those found not complying with acceptable standards of hygiene.

The last cholera epidemic between August 2008 and July 2009 -- which the World Health Organisation labelled the worst outbreak of the disease in Africa in 15 years -- killed more than 4 000 people out of more than 100 000 infections before it was brought under control.

The epidemic, along with the collapse of basic services such as public health and education, became one of the most visible signs of Zimbabwe’s unprecedented economic and humanitarian crisis after three decades of President Robert Mugabe’s controversial rule.

A power-sharing government Mugabe formed with long time foe Morgan Tsvangirai is pushing to revive the economy, restore basic services such as clean water and sewerage facilities in cities but reluctance by Western donor countries to provide financial support continue to hamper the administration’s efforts. -- ZimOnline