Thursday, July 23, 2009

Zim at risk of fresh cholera outbreak: UN

by Cuthbert Nzou Wednesday 22 July 2009

HARARE - The UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
said on Tuesday that Zimbabwe remained at risk of a fresh outbreak of
cholera once the next rainy season starts in less than five months time.

The OCHA said in a report released yesterday that structural causes at the
root of the current epidemic that killed more than 4 000 people over the
past 11 months had not been addressed and could trigger another outbreak
during the approaching rain season.

"As the next rainy season approaches, there are, however, fears of another
cholera outbreak because the structural causes of the current epidemic have
not been fully addressed," the OCHA report said.

It added: "These include broken down and anachronistic water and sanitation
infrastructure characterised by burst sewer systems and water pipes, often
resulting in sewerage contaminating water before it reaches household

The OCHA said the current epidemic had reached its tail end as indicated by
the lower number of cases and deaths being reported.

By 15 July 2009, the cumulative number of cases of cholera infections
reported since August 2008 was 98 592, an increase of 61 new cases from the
98 531 cases recorded by the same time in June.

The number of cumulative deaths was 4 288 representing an increase of six
from the 4 282 reported at the same time last month, with 2 631 community
deaths in mid-July, which shows an increase by one from 2 630 in mid-June,
according to OCHA.

The UN humanitarian arm said most Zimbabweans had no access to safe water,
raising the risk of catching cholera in the event of an outbreak.

"The challenge of limited safe water and frequent water cuts that force
people to resort to unsafe sources including shallow wells, ponds and dams
among others, has not been addressed," the agency said.

"The revised Consolidated Appeal for 2009, partners in the water, sanitation
and hygiene (WASH) cluster estimate that six million people in Zimbabwe have
limited or no access to safe water.

"Further, some rural areas have extremely low latrine coverage, resulting in
unhygienic practices that lead to the contamination of water sources during
the rainy season. A combination of these factors increases the risk of
populations contracting cholera."

The organisation said weaknesses in water and sanitation services were
further compounded by a fragile health delivery system.

"Although the health system has improved since the onset of the outbreak,
with more services being available and accessible, it still needs further
strengthening. In addition, despite an improvement in health information
delivery including the weekly rapid disease notification system, many health
facilities still lack quick and easy access to communication equipment for
reporting," the OCHA said.

Given this scenario, the UN agency said, the humanitarian community's focus
was on preventing another large-scale cholera outbreak. - ZimOnline

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