Zimbabwe last week on 15 March reported 31 more suspected cases of cholera bringing the total number of cases to 98 with eight now confirmed as neighbouring countries continue to report a spike in new cases and with Centenary, which has been dealing with patients from a Mozambique village, and Beitbridge joining Chegutu as focuses of the Zimbabwean outbreak.
According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care daily situation report, three of the new suspected cases were confirmed which brings to eight the total number of confirmed cases since the outbreak was first detected on February 13.
One person has died from the disease although, according to health authorities, the patient had died before being brought into Zimbabwe from a village in Mozambique.
“The new cases were reported from Centenary (15), Beitbridge (11), Chegutu (4) and Chivi (1). Fourteen of the suspected cases and one suspected death brought in dead were Mozambican nationals from Kadunje Village who sought treatment at Chiwenga Clinic, Centenary District, Mashonaland Central , bordering Mozambique,” reported the Ministry.
As of March 15, the Ministry said one case was hospitalised at Chivi District Hospital Cholera Treatment Unit in Masvingo Province. The national recovery rate for cholera is currently 99 percent.
In 2022 alone, at least 29 African countries reported cases of cholera to the World Health Organisation, a notable increase from the average of fewer than 20 countries over the past five years. This year about 12 countries have so far reported cases of cholera.
In southern Africa, Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Malawi have been hit by cholera outbreaks.
Malawi, which has been the hardest hit, has recorded more than 50 000 cases and 1 600 deaths since March last year and the cases have continued to rise as the region has been receiving more rains of late.
Although Zimbabwe’s cases are still lower than in other affected countries, Government has put in place measures in response to outbreak including activating national, provincial and district rapid response teams as well as the Civil Protection Committee.
The cholera outbreak emergency preparedness and response plan for 2023-2024, the relevant budget, as well as the country’s cholera and typhoid guidelines have also been reviewed and updated while vaccination campaigns are being rolled out.
Zimbabwe last had a cholera outbreak in 2018 which the country managed to contain.
Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection characterised, in its severe form, by extreme watery diarrhoea and potentially fatal dehydration. It is caused by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.
Despite being easily treatable by antibiotics, cholera remains a global threat due to its high morbidity and mortality in vulnerable populations with a lack of access to adequate sanitation and health care.
According to experts, the main drivers and challenges for controlling and containing the current cholera outbreaks include climate change, floods and drought.
Africa has for years been experiencing natural disasters such as cyclones which have caused major flooding as well as droughts.
Tropical storm Freddy is currently causing havoc in Mozambique and Malawi and experts say this could exacerbate the current cholera spread in the two countries and beyond.
A total of 36 districts across eight provinces of Mozambique are currently experiencing active cholera outbreaks, with Inhambane and Zambezia, the provinces impacted by Cyclone Freddy on its first and second impacts, now both declaring outbreaks.
In addition to the risk of cholera, UNICEF is greatly concerned about the strong likelihood of an increase in cases of other waterborne diseases like diarrhoea, as well as malaria, diseases which number among the leading causes of child mortality. With health and nutrition services seriously disrupted in many locations in the aftermath of the cyclone, the risk of death and disease for children increases further.