At least 12 people have died of diarrhoea following an outbreak which has to date affected more than 34 000 people countrywide.
This comes as the country is on high alert for cholera cases in the face of ongoing outbreaks in neighbouring Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi. In a disease surveillance report for the week ending February 2, the Ministry of Health and Child Care said 7 302 common diarrhoea cases and two deaths had been reported since the beginning of the year.
“The deaths were reported from Sally Mugabe Central Hospital,” said the Ministry.
“Of the reported cases, 3 162 (43,3 percent) were from under five years of age. The provinces with the highest number of cases are Mashonaland Central Province (1 332) and Mashonaland East (1 293). The cumulative figures for common diarrhoea are 34 715 cases and 12 deaths.”
The rise in diarrhoeal diseases has been a cause for concern, with experts saying the outbreaks which started late last year had been spurred by the lack of adequate safe drinking water and poor sanitation in most cities.
The capital has been faced with a diarrhoea and typhoid outbreak, which has put authorities under pressure to contain as the threat of a cholera outbreak also looms.
To date, two cholera cases have been identified and contained, but the Government has activated health emergency response mechanisms to ensure proper management of any identified case. Harare has been affected by diarrhoeal diseases since late last year, with the province recording over 1 100 cases between October and November.
At the beginning of this month, the city had recorded 26 confirmed typhoid cases and 99 suspected cases. Public health experts have stressed the need to strengthen water and sanitation systems to ensure communities remain safe in the face of such challenges.
Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) executive director Mr Itai Rusike, said although the rainy season brought relief in terms of accessibility of water for most communities not receiving council supplies, the water was in most cases not safe.
“Diarrhoea is a killer for our children,” he said.
“It robs them of valuable nutrients and if they don’t die of the acute aspects such as dehydration and electrolyte imbalance they quickly become malnourished.
The big answer is to provide safe water universally, and improve sanitation. There is need to remind communities of the importance of handwashing or hand hygiene.”
Mr Rusike said health authorities should encourage rotavirus vaccination for all children and typhoid and cholera vaccination where indicated.
He said breastfeeding also protected children against diarrhoea.
“Rainwater harvesting is important as the water is safe before ground contamination. People should also treat water at the point of use, especially for drinking and preparing vegetables and salads,” said Mr Rusike.