The U.N.'s Children's Fund expressed alarm this week about a cholera outbreak in Africa that has spread to at least 10 countries, with the situation in Zambia and Zimbabwe "very serious."
Dr. Paul Ngwakum, the regional health adviser for UNICEF in East and Southern Africa, said about 200,000 cases have been reported and more than 3,000 lives taken by the disease.
Ngwakum said Zambia and Zimbabwe are experiencing a rapid rise in the number of cases since the Christmas and New Year holidays, with 1,000 cholera cases reported a week in each of the neighboring countries.
"The situation in Zambia and Zimbabwe is very serious,” he said. “These two countries are the most affected in the region. In Zambia, nine out of 10 provinces are reporting cases.”
The disease’s fatality rate is alarmingly high, Ngwakum said, with 4% of the more than 9,000 cases ending in death.
A man walks past flowing sewage in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Jan. 17, 2024. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)
In Zimbabwe, a shortage of purified water is forcing residents to depend on open sources. That, along with uncollected refuse and running sewage, are being blamed for the waterborne disease.
Douglas Mombeshora, Zimbabwe’s health minister, said the central government is doing all it can to contain the outbreak, starting in the capital, Harare.
Itai Rusike, executive director of the Community Working Group on Health in Zimbabwe, called on the government to declare a national disaster so that international aid agencies such as WHO, UNICEF and USAID can swiftly help to contain the cholera outbreak.
“All the measures to end cholera are in the purview of the government — central government or local government — by providing safe water, safe sanitation and also hygienic safe disposal,” Rusike said. “So the buck stops with the government in making sure that people are provided with uninterrupted potable water, refuse is collected on time, burst sewer pipes are fixed [promptly] and the general public are given information about cholera guidelines and protocols.”
UNICEF fears that if the outbreaks are not controlled, it will mean schools closing — as is already the case in Zambia. (VP/VOA)