Cholera Outbreak: Funerals identified as super-spreaders


Zimbabwe implements measures to control cholera outbreak as cases surge

The Zimbabwean government has issued a directive requiring all community deaths to be reported to the Ministry of Health and Child Care. The ministry will deploy staff to supervise funerals related to diarrheal causes as part of comprehensive efforts to curb the rapidly spreading cholera outbreak, which poses a significant threat to public health across the country and the region.

To date, there have been 71 confirmed and 336 suspected cholera-related deaths recorded nationwide, with new cases increasing sharply in recent days. Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection caused by bacteria transmitted through contaminated food and water. The disease leads to severe dehydration, diarrhea, and, if left untreated, can be fatal. It affects individuals of all ages and can cause death within hours.

According to health experts, most people infected with cholera do not develop any symptoms, although the bacteria is present in their faeces for 1-10 days after infection and is shed back into the environment, potentially infecting other people.

On Wednesday, 242 new suspected cholera cases were recorded in Zimbabwe and 28 confirmed cases with reports that so far, a total of 321 cases are in hospital, official reports show.

In a statement yesterday, the Ministry of Health and Child Care said funerals have been cited as super-spreaders of the water-borne disease, which was first recorded in Chegutu town, Mashonaland West Province. To date suspected and confirmed cases have been reported in 60 districts in all the 10 provinces of the country since the beginning of 2024.

The outbreak has now spread to more than the 17 traditional cholera hotspot districts of Buhera, Chegutu, Chikomba, Chimanimani, Chipinge, Chitungwiza, Chiredzi, Harare, Gokwe North, Marondera, Mazowe, Shamva, Mutare, Murehwa, Mwenezi, Seke and Wedza.

“The Ministry of Health and Child Care has realised that funeral gatherings are acting as super-spreaders of cholera in Zimbabwe,” said the ministry.

“Therefore, the ministry is advising all members of the public to report all deaths that occur in the community and that all burials especially from diarrhoeal causes, whether proven cholera or not should be supervised by health workers. Eating at burials should be limited.

“As of January 17, 2024, Zimbabwe had 18 865 suspected cholera cases, 2 223 confirmed cases, 18 137 recoveries and 71 confirmed deaths and 336 suspected deaths.”

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health and Child Care has since announced a cholera outbreak in Hwange District in Matabeleland North province following five suspected cases detected in the coal mining town. The cases were reported on Sunday and are all being monitored at the Hwange Colliery Hospital.

All along Matabeleland North had six cases in Binga and Umguza before the new cases in Hwange.

Stakeholders in the district held a meeting at the District Development Co-ordinator’s office in Hwange on Wednesday where the health and emergency response teams were activated. Notifying the district stakeholders about the state of cholera, Hwange District Medical Officer Dr Fungayi Musinami called for vigilance among citizens saying sanitation and hygiene were key in controlling the outbreak, as well as preventing future outbreaks.

“This communication serves to notify all stakeholders and residents that Hwange District has declared a cholera outbreak,” he said.

“Cases at this present time have been confirmed in Hwange urban. Response systems have been activated. All are encouraged to follow cholera prevention guidelines and seek medical attention early in the event of any diarrhoeal illness.”

According to the ministry, Matabeleland North province has 11 cumulative suspected cholera cases, six of them recovered and five are in hospital care.

A recent cholera situational report shows that 60 districts have reported cases in the country as of Wednesday.

“As of today 17 January, Zimbabwe has recorded 18 865 suspected cholera cases 2 223 confirmed cases, 18 137 recoveries, 71 confirmed deaths and 336 suspected deaths,” read the report.

There were 23 laboratory-confirmed results, and the cases were reported countrywide. Development partner organisations such as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) have already come on board to work closely with the Government to assist 2,2 million people with oral cholera vaccination in the 29 high-risk districts that have been affected by the outbreak.

Unicef has said the partnership was part of measures to save lives by ensuring that people have clean water supply and good sanitation while working with communities among other critical interventions.

So far, the programme has benefited more than 190 000 people including 87 000 children since the outset of the outbreak.

Breaking News via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to our website and receive notifications of Breaking News by email.