Zimbabwe Health Officials Scramble As Typhoid Spreads Beyond Harare

Epidemiology and Disease Control Director Dr. Portia Manangazira told Parliament’s committee on health that most typhoid cases were reported in Kuwadzana, Mufakose and Crowborough

Violet Gonda & Irwin Chifera | Washington

The Zimbabwean Ministry of Health said Tuesday that typhoid, which continues to be a source of concern for many residents in Harare, has spread to more suburbs in the city and to other major towns with more than 200 new cases reported nationally a week.

So far two deaths have been reported out of an estimated 2,000 cases.

Epidemiology and Disease Control Director Dr. Portia Manangazira told Parliament’s committee on health that most typhoid cases were reported in Kuwadzana, Mufakose and Crowborough, with most patients receiving treatment at Parirenyatwa Hospital.

“We have reported 203 new typhoid cases this week only so what I am saying in terms of the increased magnitude of Kuwadzana outbreak is that then we were reporting 20 to 30 cases per week, then we went up to a 100 cases a week. So we actually have an outbreak that is raging,” Dr. Manangazira told VOA.

She said typhoid, which Harare City Council has said is under control, seems to be still spreading and that there’s a possibility of outbreaks in 30 towns and districts around the country, such as Bindura in Mashonaland Central and Kadoma in Mashonaland West.

Dr. Manangazira said it is unfortunate that some people caught typhoid at hospitals citing cases at Harare's Parirenyatwa Hospital and Bindura Provincial Hospital.

“What really got me worried was the water and sanitation situation at Bindura Provincial Hospital," Dr. Manangazira explained. "They said the hospital has two taps to give the patients and staff running water. So the hospital staff are using the bucket system to collect water for patients as well as to flush toilets.”

“The provincial hospital grounds now has sewage flowing [free]," she added.

Manangazira said apart from typhoid there has been an upsurge in common diarrhea largely due to poor sanitation and the continuing failure by towns and cities to provide clean water and manage their sewage treatment and garbage collection.

Harare City Council Town Clerk Tendai Mahachi told Parliament’s Natural Resources and Environment Committee on Monday that the city was releasing sewage into its water sources thereby increasing risk for the outbreaks of diseases.

Lawmaker Blessing Chebundo, a member of Parliament's health committee, said that his panel has been touring affected areas in Harare.

Chebundo said that the parliamentarians were told by health experts the epidemic could spread to other towns, so the committee is pressuring the government to make enough resources available and for Harare City Council to inform residents of the risk.

“Let’s identify the gaps," Chebundo said. "If the gaps are to do with resources let’s reason with government because government is supposed to come in when we have problems that threaten the lives of the people and the city council itself also has to put its priorities in order." Since the outbreak of typhoid in the capital, central and local government officials have appeared to shuffle blame back and forth.

The government and the United Nations Children's Fund have extended an emergency program to help local government rehabilitate water and treatment systems.

The Emergency Rehabilitation and Risk Reduction was set up during the 2008-2009 cholera epidemic which claimed some 4,200 lives. It was to expire in March.

Harare and other cities were to take over full management of water treatment but the typhoid outbreak led Harare officials to ask that the program be extended.

UNICEF has provided $64 million in funding for the program so far.

UNICEF Chief of Mission Dr. Peter Salama said the program was an emergency response as his agency does not normally support water treatment programs.