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Health Crisis - Focus on Cholera and Anthrax - Index of articles
Return of cholera expected soon
August 19, 2009
The return of cholera
to Zimbabwe is not a matter of if, but when, said Rian van de Braak,
head of mission of the medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières
In an interview published
on its website on 19 August, Van de Braak commented, "The threat
is definitely not over. Everyone expects cholera to be back, at
the latest with the next rainy season [in September or October],
because the root causes of the outbreak [in 2008] have not been
addressed adequately yet."
The first case of the
cholera epidemic that swept through Zimbabwe, killing more than
4,000 people and infecting close to 100,000 others, was reported
in August 2008 and lasted almost a year until it was officially
declared at an end in July 2009.
Broken sanitation and
water systems, the cause of Africa's worst outbreak of the waterborne
disease in 15 years, are unlikely to be repaired in time.
"Several aid agencies
are drilling new boreholes in cholera hotspots, which is an important
contribution to safe drinking water. Dealing with those causes before
the next rainy season is a race against the clock," Van De
Unlike August 2008, when
many NGOs had been banned from operating after President Robert
Mugabe accused them of supporting the rival Movement for Democratic
Change, aid agencies have been able to prepare for the worst. "Nobody
knows how big the next outbreak will be, but we are ready to respond
immediately," Van De Braak said.
"We have the necessary
stocks in-country, and a contact list of all the extra 250 Zimbabwean
staff who we recruited for the last outbreak ... we have been distributing
cholera kits to 50 of the most remote clinics we have been working
with, and trained the health staff on how to intervene when the
first cases arrive. We've also distributed 11,000 hygiene kits and
reached more than 40,000 households with our hygiene promotion,"
However, the cholera
outbreak has often masked an even bigger killer. "There are
more than 400 people dying in Zimbabwe every day of AIDS-related
causes. To put things in perspective: there were around 4,000 cholera-related
deaths in total during the nine-month outbreak; with AIDS we have
that number of casualties within 10 days, every 10 days, again and
again," Van De Braak said.
Only about 20 percent
of the people requiring antiretroviral (ARV) treatment were receiving
it, she said, as the ARV programme had "come to a temporary
standstill" and "dearly needed scaling up."
About 15 percent of sexually
active Zimbabweans between the ages of 15 and 49 are HIV positive.
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