AS Zimbabwe battles cholera with over well over 12 000 cases and more than 200 deaths, the disease is spreading like veld fire, especially in the capital Harare, further exposing the country’s ailing health sector and governance failures.
The country has been grappling with a cholera outbreak since February 2023, with the number of cases increasing across the nation.
Since the onset of the outbreak in February and as of 19 December, a total of 12 414 cholera cases, 62 confirmed deaths and 217 related deaths have been reported from 54 out of 64 districts. All 10 provinces in the country are affected.
The 2008–2009 cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe resulted in 98 585 reported cases and 4 287 reported deaths, making it the largest and deadliest in the history of Zimbabwe.
Coupled with the current situation, this serves as a reminder of the ongoing vulnerability of communities facing challenges related to clean water, sanitation facilities, and public health infrastructure.
Water shortages, burst sewer pipes and general unhygienic environments fuel cholera, an acute diarrhoeal illness caused by infection of the intestine with Vibrio cholerae bacteria. People usually fall sick when they swallow food or water contaminated with cholera bacteria.
Cholera causes severe watery diarrhoea, which can lead to dehydration and death if untreated. While the immediate health impact has been devastating amid rising casualties, the repercussions of the epidemic extend beyond statistics.
The outbreak has strained an already fragile healthcare system, exacerbating issues related to endemic diseases, malnutrition, and limited access to healthcare, particularly for vulnerable people, mainly women and children in high density areas.
As the world continues to battle preventable waterborne diseases like cholera, it is imperative to draw lessons from the Zimbabwean experience.
While government has been struggling to contain the cholera outbreak, there has been shortcomings on risk communication, stakeholder engagement, standardisation, evaluation, resource allocation, and capacity building.
The cholera outbreak and its relentless ess spread is a further manifestation of serious leadership and governance failures in Zimbabwe.
The increasing economic fragility, political instability and social decay have cumulatively exacerbated the governance failures in Zimbabwe.
The unpreparedness and ad hoc response of the government to the cholera outbreak testify to the incompetence of the state apparatus.
The severity of the governance dysfunction could well be gauged by the failure to deal with cholera.
- Since the onset of the outbreak and as of 19 December, a total of 12 414 cholera cases, 62 confirmed deaths and 217 suspected deaths have been reported from 54 out of 64 districts. All 10 provinces in the country are affected;
- Increasing cholera trends continue to be observed with a weekly average of 1 000 new cases with over 80% recorded in Harare and Manicaland provinces. A declining trend is observed in Chitungwiza in recent weeks;
- Overall, an estimated 51% of cases are female with children below 15 years accounting for 36% of cases and 21% of deaths;
- Unicef and partners have reached 190 595 people, including 87 674 children with safe water since the outset of the outbreak;
- Unicef provided two additional high-performance tents to expand the capacity of cholera treatment facilities in Zvipiripiri and Chiadzwa Health Centres. This is in response to the surge in cases in Mutare and Buhera districts in Manicaland province; and
- On 13 December, Unicef and the national RCCE pillar kicked off the nationwide festive season campaign in Manicaland where 200 people in Mutare and Chimanimani districts, including 30 religious leaders and artisanal miners, were sensitised on key messages on cholera prevention during the festive season.