Harare recorded over 1 100 cases of diarrhoea between October 24 and November 20, with the authorities citing the city’s failure to provide clean running water, collect refuse and attend to burst sewer pipes as the cause of the outbreak.
In an interview with The Sunday Mail, Harare City Council director of health services Dr Prosper Chonzi said most cases are being recorded in high-density suburbs, where clean water supply is unreliable.
The authorities, he said, are worried that cholera outbreaks presently affecting Malawi and Mozambique could spread to Zimbabwe if the diarrhoea cases are not managed properly.
“We are recording about 250 to 270 cases of diarrhoea per week,” he said.
“From October 24 to November 20, we recorded 1 115 cases. Cases of typhoid are still low, as we are recording between five and six cases every week.
“These cases are mainly in high-density suburbs, where there is inadequate running water, no refuse collection and sewage bursts.”
Dr Chonzi said the city’s health department had enhanced its disease surveillance system by following up on suspected cases and contact tracing to arrest the spread of the disease.
“Currently, we are testing any suspected case of diarrhoea at all our clinics and we are offering treatment free of charge.
“We have activated our rapid response team; we are very alert and we have initiated contact tracing on suspected cases.”
The city, he said, was mobilising vital medicines and treatment regimens in anticipation of a major outbreak.
“In hospitals and clinics that are treating diarrhoea, we have stockpiled requisite medicines and sundries,” he added.
“We have also secured drips (intravenous fluid) and mobilised a number of environmental officers and community health workers so that they start home visits to see if there are no reported cases.
“We are trying by all means to manage this because we do not want history to repeat itself like what happened in 2008.”
Presently, he said, no patients have been admitted to hospital for treatment.
“We urge the general public to be on high alert because currently there is a cholera outbreak in Malawi and Mozambique, and if we do not manage this properly, we will be affected.”
Community Working Group on Health executive director Mr Itai Rusike said Harare’s perennial water shortages need a long-term solution.
“Environmental conditions underlie many of the common health problems in Harare, including the diarrhoeal diseases. This makes access to safe water, safe sanitation and hygienic waste disposal fundamental,” he said.
“The increasing number of diarrhoeal diseases is a very worrying issue and this is mainly due to poor water supplies and sanitation services.”
He said council should ring-fence revenue collected for waste collection and water provision to deliver an efficient waste management and water provision service.
Harare Residents Trust executive director Mr Precious Shumba said: “Service delivery in Harare has totally collapsed.
“It is actually by God’s grace that a lot of people have not been infected up to now.
“Council has totally forgotten how to respond to residents’ reports of sewer bursts.
“Water shortages have become the norm.
“When available, council water is unfit for human consumption, if reports coming from most communities are anything to go by.”
Some suburbs such as Glen Norah and Glen View have gone for three weeks without water supplies.
There are also reports that some opposition councillors are cashing in on the situation by selling water using bowsers to residents.
Harare mayor Councillor Jacob Mafume referred The Sunday Mail to council’s acting corporate communications manager, Mr Innocent Ruwende, who claimed cases of diarrhoea naturally increase during the rainy season.
“While we accept that we have not been at par with refuse collection, we are currently recapitalising. We recently purchased equipment so that we clear refuse by December 2022,” he said.
“The refuse compactors are no longer taking refuse to Pomona Dumpsite because they spend too much time on the road. We are constructing transfer stations where refuse compactors dump garbage at their nearest transfer station in order to increase turnaround time.”
Ineptitude, malfeasance and maladministration have been blamed for the collapse of service delivery in urban areas. President Mnangagwa has had to intervene through the Presidential Borehole Drilling Scheme to provide relief to residents in Chitungwiza and some parts of Harare. Central Government is also constructing Kunzvi Dam as a long-term solution to Harare’s water woes.
— Sunday Mail