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  • Health Crisis - Focus on Cholera and Anthrax - Index of articles

  • Massive cover-up of cholera deaths
    The Standard (Zimbabwe)
    November 01, 2008

    More than 20 people have succumbed to cholera in Harare's Budiriro high-density suburb in the past seven days, contrary to government claims that only six have died, authoritative health officials have confided to The Standard.

    This puts the number of people that have died of cholera, a preventable and treatable disease, at nearly 100 people in less than two months in Harare, Chitungwiza, Kariba and Chinhoyi.

    The outbreak is attributed to the erratic supply of water by the failed Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa), resulting in some residents drinking water from contaminated and sewage-drenched shallow wells that they have dug on their stands.

    A senior health official at Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases' Hospital told The Standard 11 people died from cholera at the centre on Friday and Saturday alone.

    The official said he expected more deaths as dozens of critically ill patients were thronging the hospital, seeking treatment. He said medical stocks were running low against increased demand.

    "Since yesterday, we have recorded 11 deaths here and more than 70 cholera patients are admitted here," said the official. "The deaths are well over 20 since the outbreak."

    When The Standard news crew visited the hospital yesterday, patients were being treated under trees as all wards were full.

    The very few nurses who were attending to patients — some writhing in agony on rock-hard small beds — had suspended "drips" from tree branches.

    The hospital moved out all TB patients to Wilkins Hospital to create space for cholera patients, mostly from Budiriro and Glen View.

    "We are overwhelmed; this is why we had to move TB patients from here," said the official.

    In Budiriro, the cholera outbreak has claimed more lives than any other suburb in Harare. The Standard news crew visited at least 10 homes, where bereaved families were holding funeral wakes yesterday.

    The families blasted the Minister of Health and Child Welfare, Dr David Parirenyatwa and the Minister of Water and Infrastructure Development, Engineer Munacho Mutezo of being indifferent to their plight.

    A relative of Killian Tapfumaneyi and his wife, Ella Magumise, who both died of cholera on the same day, had no kind words for the health minister.

    "He visited this area on Tuesday promising to bring clean water but nothing has come since and more people are dying. He is useless," he said.

    Ironically Magumise was a nurse at Parirenyatwa hospital.

    Fungai Jarawani, whose daughter Eniva (29) died on Tuesday, said they were failing to bury her because the central bank was not allowing withdrawals enough to finance the burial. He said the bank should relax the withdrawal limits.

    "We applied for cash at the bank and we were told to come back on Monday. People can't continue mourning here because the toilets have blocked and flies are all over. More people are at risk," said Jarawani, who had also been treated for cholera.

    Harare City Council Environmental Health Officer Dombo Chibanda, who was at Budiriro 1 Clinic, said the situation was bad.

    "The situation here is bad. We need more manpower because more and more people are coming here to seek treatment," said Chibanda, who refused to reveal the number of deaths.

    At the clinic, patients waiting to get medication were slumped on concrete benches. Some were vomiting.

    At the gate, residents were jostling to get water purification tablets. Unfortunately, some failed to get the tablets because the demand was greater than the supplies.

    Sydney Chirombe MDC councillor for Budiriro Ward 33 said "many people had died of cholera" in Budiriro 1 suburb only last week.

    "The situation in Budiriro is so pathetic, though statistics of people who have died of cholera are still being compiled, they are more than what the state media is reporting," he said. "Two died people died on admission at Budiriro 1 Clinic today, (yesterday)."

    At Budiriro 1 Shopping Centre, residents were scrambling for clean water from a single bowser from Unicef.

    The Combined Harare Residents' Association (CHRA) said cholera deaths recorded by the government were an underestimate as fatalities were also reported in Dzivarasekwa.

    CHRA said "several residents" of Dzivarasekwa had succumbed to the disease but most of the cases had gone unreported.

    "However, there is a possibility that the figures are conservative as there is high possibility that there are some unreported cases," CHRA said.

    Parirenyatwa, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, was recently quoted as saying his ministry was working to resolve the crisis.

    But CHRA has dismissed this as "crocodile's tears".

    "CHRA dismisses the Minister of Health and Zanu PF's crocodile tears and grandstanding in trying to appear as if they are concerned about the health of residents at a time when some have already died due to the pandemic that has been looming for the better part of the year."

    The cholera crisis in Budiriro appears to eclipse earlier outbreaks in Chitungwiza, Epworth, Mabvuku and Tafara.

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