Over 7,000 cases have been recorded so far, killing dozens of people. Zimbabwe has declared a state of emergency in the capital Harare, over the cholera outbreak.
Zimbabwean Officials have said that the events bear the hallmarks of a deadly outbreak in 2008 that caused thousands of fatalities and over 100,000 infections.
Harare Mayor Ian Makone said, “A state of emergency has been declared because the situation now is very bad”.
Looking at the rising number of cases the disease is rapidly spreading across the city. Cases have increased because of a lack of healthcare workers to manage the cases, as well as a lack of supplies of medicines to stop the transmission.
The Cholera outbreak, the biggest since 2018 was caused by unhygienic conditions and blocked sewers, according to government reports.
What is a Cholera outbreak?
Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, infecting people most often via contaminated water or food ingestion.
Every year, cholera causes nearly 3 to 5 million cases and 100,000 to 120,000 deaths. The short incubation period (12 hours to 5 days) enhances the potentially explosive pattern of outbreaks.
Cholera is a virulent disease and causes acute watery diarrhea in both children and adults. Although, three-quarters of all patients do not show any symptoms although, the bacteria are present in their feaces for 1–10 days after infection and are shed back into the environment, potentially infecting other people.
Cholera can kill, especially those with weakened immune systems within hours if left untreated. Additionally, even asymptomatic patients spread the bacteria via defecation, which can lead to new infections.
Reasons for Cholera outbreak in Harare
Talking about the Cholera outbreak in Harare, people have dug wells close to pit latrines, especially in mushrooming settlements and other suburbs that do not have running water. It means their drinking water is contaminated.
The epicenter of Harare is the densely populated suburb of Kuwadzanam, where around half of the cases have been reported, authorities have said. The unhygienic living conditions are the main reason for the rising number of cases.
Outbreaks occur regularly in Zimbabwean cities where supplies of drinking water and sanitation facilities are erratic, and infrastructure has collapsed due to years of neglect.
In some areas of the country, people can go months without tap water, forcing them to rely on unsafe sources like shallow wells, boreholes, or rivers.
In October 2023, covid-style lockdown measures were introduced to help the resurgence and prevent the transmission of infection.
All public gatherings were banned in the southeastern Zaka district if they did not have official approval, people were discouraged from shaking hands, eating at gatherings, and buying food from unlicensed vendors in Harare.
Zimbabwe last declared a state of emergency in response to cholera in 2018, when more than 2,000 cases related to typhoid and cholera and 20 deaths were reported.
The Cholera outbreak happened at the time of the country’s economic crisis when most of the public hospitals were closed due to a shortage of medicines and most of the nation’s health workers were working abroad.
By observing the current outbreak situation, the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) said the disease is spreading rapidly and has been recorded in all 10 provinces in the country.
The disease outbreak is likely to reach beyond Zimbabwe’s borders. Neighboring countries Malawi, South Africa, and Mozambique have also suffered from frequent cholera outbreaks historically. These nations are most likely to be prone to the disease in the coming days.
The African regions is grappling with huge problems ranging from gangs’ violence in Kenya to cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe.
The World Health Organization previously warned that the risk of large-scale outbreaks is increasing due to climate change, which has made tropical storms that limit access to clean water and sanitation more common.
The international community has to come together to work on a collaborative approach to avoid and take appropriate measures for such kind of disease outbreaks.