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Doctors warn of 'public health crisis' as typhoid reported in Chegutu
Alex Bell, SW Radio Africa
October 25, 2012

A doctors' group in Zimbabwe has warned of a potentially devastating public health crisis in the form of a nationwide typhoid epidemic, with more cases of the disease being reported this week.

13 fresh cases of typhoid have been reported in Chegutu where the local authority has been slammed for failing for provide fresh water. The disease is spread through contaminated water and, like its bacterial cousin cholera, can be deadly.

Typhoid cases have been reported in different parts of Zimbabwe since last year, with the worst affected areas being the densely populated suburbs around Harare's centre, including Kuwadzana and Mufakose. That initial outbreak was then followed by more cases that were confirmed in Bindura, Mashonaland Central and Norton and Zvimba in Mashonaland West. More incidents have also been reported in Chitungwiza and Kadoma.

So far there have been two confirmed deaths from the almost 5,000 suspected cases registered across the country.

But with the onset of the rainy season there are serious warnings that the disease will continue to spread.

In February this year the Health Ministry admitted it was not on top of the situation, with a critical lack of medicine and clean water hampering treatment and prevention efforts. Many local councils too have been unable to provide proper sanitation to their residents, blaming broken down sewerage systems and water pipes for this failure.

Dr. Rutendo Bonde, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights, told SW Radio Africa on Thursday that the ongoing spread of typhoid is a strong indictment of local and national government, because the basic human right of access to water is being denied.

"There needs to be a plan for permanent solution of water access and sanitation or these diseases will continue to be a threat. The local authorities should not be going for good case management when diseases strike, they should be focused on prevention," Dr. Bonde said.

She also criticised the authorities for not "learning its lesson," since the deadly cholera outbreak that started in 2008. That outbreak, which was only brought under control about two years later, resulted in the deaths of an estimated 4,000 people countrywide.

"How much more of a wake up call do the local authorities need? They should have learned from the cholera outbreak that something needed to be done about access to clean water," Dr. Bonde said.

She meanwhile said that the rains will likely drive the situation to a crisis, with the disease spreading faster. She recommended that the basic practice of hand washing was the first best defence against the disease.

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