HEALTH authorities are grappling to control a cholera outbreak in Masvingo province which has killed dozens of people, with Mkwasine Estates in Chiredzi being the hotspot due to a lack of potable water and sanitation facilities.
Mkwasine, a sugarcane farming community 40km east of Chiredzi town, used to be called Little England in the early 1980s because of the world-class facilities left by the colonial government which later deteriorated after the chaotic land reform programme as indigenous outgrower farmers resettled by the government failed to maintain the facilities.
The area, with almost 600 outgrower farmers, does not have toilets and potable water. Residents drink raw water from canals meant for sugarcane irrigation.
Since the outbreak of cholera in the country after general elections last year, Masvingo recorded 2 223 cases with 2 070 recoveries and 71 deaths. The province is still left with 82 patients who are under care with most of the active cases in Chiredzi district.
Masvingo provincial medical director Dr Amadeous Shamhu told The NewsHawks that Mkwasine Estates and areas along Save River are recording many cases compared to other areas in the province. He said the rise in the number of cases in the area is attributed to a lack of potable water and sanitation facilities like toilets.
“Cases of cholera in Masvingo are fluctuating on daily basis and our major worry is Mkwasine in Chiredzi district where people are drinking untreated water from canals. This is making all our efforts to contain the disease difficult. However, as the ministry we have since embarked on a serious awareness campaign where we are urging people to boil untreated water before drinking it. We are also providing chemicals which they can use to treat water before drinking. With several stakeholders we are also working to construct sanitation facilities like toilets”
“As you know, cholera is an acute diarrhoeal disease that can kill within hours if left untreated. It is a disease which affects people with inadequate access to safe water and basic sanitation. That is why we are calling for the provision of clean water and sanitation facilities in Mkwasine. Our medical teams are on the ground and we have since established a cholera camp at Mapanza in Mkwasine where over 170 people were treated,” said Dr Shamhu.
Acting Chiredzi district development coordinator Gift Machukele told The NewsHawks that the cholera situation in Chiredzi is bad and his office is working with health officials to normalise the situation. He said the district established a camp at Mapanza last Thursday after cases rose drastically and the move helped to contain the situation.
“As l speak to you, cases are dropping, but the outbreak in Mkwasine caught us unawares to the extend that we established a camp at Mapanza and it worked. We are working together with various partners to provide sanitation facilities in the area and currently boreholes are being drilled as well as provision of detergents is ongoing for people to wash their hands in ongoing,” said Machukele.
Chiredzi Rural District Council chief executive officer Ailes Baloyi said his council provided a borehole rigger which had so far drilled three boreholes in the area in collaboration with sugarcane farmers. He said the major challenge is that farmers were not willing to work with his council in the provision of services, which is the other issue which caused the deterioration of sanitation facilities.
Sugarcane farmer Bernadette Tamba told The NewsHawks that outgrower farmers are failing to invest towards the provision of sanitation facilities despite getting money from farming. She said the land reform programme in the sugar industry was supposed to look at people with capacity to maintain the infrastructure left by previous owners Tongaat Huletts since everything was okay before their departure.
“The ball is in now in our hands as outgrower sugarcane farmers to make sure that we invest towards the provision of sanitation facilities for ourselves and our workers. They used to have these facilities before we came, but after getting our payments we forget to maintain those same facilities,” said Tamba.
Mkwasine resident Solomon Gavaza said the authorities should provide Mkwasine residents with clean water which is part of their basic human rights. He said despite the outbreak of cholera in the area, nothing is being done to address the issue of water and toilets.
“We are appealing to responsible authorities to make sure they start valuing residents and provide basic human rights like clean water and ablution facilities. Without these two we will not defeat cholera in Mkwasine and it will be a perennial disaster every season. We need government to prioritise our health centres in Mkwasine, namely Porepore Clinic, Chipiwa Clinic and Mkwasine Clinic making sure they have enough staff and drugs in an event of an outbreak because the last time cholera hit us we had no supplies nor medical staff to deal with the outbreak where patients were buying their own medicine,” said Gavaza.
One of the leading outgrower farmers in Mkwasine blamed Mkwasine Management Committee (MMC), a grouping of all sugarcane farmers in the area which is collecting levies from farmers annually, for sleeping on millions of dollars ignoring calls to provide facilities like toilets, roads and treated water.
He said the committee must provide services to those who are giving them money yearly.
“With over 500 farmers paying a yearly subscription fee of over US$2 000, MMC is collecting a lot of money and we are not seeing what they are doing with it. It was our belief that they should use the money to provide us services like water. Currently people are drinking water from canals and most of them are using sugarcane fields as toilets and in that situation can we survive from cholera?” asked the farmer.
Abinel Mutembwa, the MMC chairperson, refused to talk to The NewsHawks and only said that the area is not affected by cholera. He said the situation is under control and his committee is undertaking a lot of projects.