On Monday, October 23rd, Zimbabwe found itself in the throes of a mounting health crisis as a cholera outbreak that began in February continued to spread. Originating in Chegutu, a town in Mashonaland West Province, the disease has since permeated all ten provinces of the country. Particularly alarming is the surge in cholera cases in the southeastern provinces of Masvingo and Manicaland, the latter bordering Mozambique, which alone has reported over 1,000 infections.
The statistics paint a grim picture with nearly 5,000 potential cholera cases spanning 41 districts, including the capital city of Harare. With 100 suspected deaths, mostly in September, there are growing fears of a repeat of the 2008 cholera epidemic that resulted in a staggering 4,000 fatalities.
In response, the Zimbabwean government has been swift to implement preventive measures to inhibit the rise in cholera cases. Restrictions have been put in place, notably at funerals, where attendance is capped at 50, handshakes are discouraged, and serving food is prohibited. The public is also being advised to steer clear of open-air markets, unlicensed vendors, and outdoor religious gatherings, given the poor sanitation conditions often associated with these venues.
Cholera, primarily a waterborne disease, thrives in areas with compromised sanitation and limited access to clean drinking water. Many in Zimbabwe, especially in remote villages, are reliant on potentially contaminated wells or rivers due to a lack of tap water. The situation is further exacerbated by the presence of raw sewage from damaged infrastructure and accumulated waste, heightening the risk of disease transmission.
The Ministry of Health has pinpointed the root causes of the cholera outbreak to be a combination of poor sanitation practices and delayed medical attention. To combat this, they have announced plans to drill eight new boreholes in the most affected regions. Additionally, religious leaders are being roped in to advocate for timely medical care among their congregations.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has expressed deep concern over the recurrent cholera challenges. In a recent address, he emphasized the nation’s infrastructure woes and announced a comprehensive borehole drilling initiative, targeting all 35,000 villages in Zimbabwe, as part of a broader strategy to ensure clean water access.