Diarrhoea outbreak hits Bulawayo…Cowdray Park hardest hit suburb

Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, thandeka.moyo@chronicle.co.zw

BULAWAYO residents have been urged to exercise extreme caution and adhere to strict hygiene standards following reports of a diarrhoea outbreak linked to water shortages, with Cowdray Park suburb being hit hardest.

The city is under a tight water shedding schedule, which has recently seen some suburbs going for almost three weeks without water as the local authority faces pumping challenges and depleting levels in major supply dams.

Some residents have resorted to collecting water from unhygienic shallow wells in swampy areas, while some are forced to sleep in long queues at communal boreholes drilled at strategic points.

Bulawayo Director of Health Services, Dr Edwin Mzingwane, confirmed that of the recorded cases in council clinics, Cowdray Park suburb had the highest diarrhoea prevalence. 

“We have had reports of diarrhoea cases in our clinics and so far, Cowdray Park has been hardest hit. We continue raising awareness and urging residents to report to health institutions for immediate medical attention,” said Dr Mzingwane.

He said the council was working flat out to ensure the provision of water to residents despite pumping challenges given the low dam levels occasioned by the El Nino weather pattern, which has strained inflows. 

Dr Mzingwane said residents should be vigilant and practise good hygiene, which includes avoiding handshakes, washing hands, and eating cooked food from trusted sources. 

Dr Edwin Mzingwane

“Washing hands with soap and water before handling food and drink, keeping utensils clean and stored in clean places remains the key message to residents,” he said. 

“We have noted with concern that residents love gatherings such as funerals and church groupings among others. In light of the water-shedding situation, when they sleep over, it creates a water crisis as more water is needed for bathing, drinking, and flushing,” said Dr Mzingwane.

“They should also thoroughly heat food before consumption; keep water in clean and covered containers, keep the environment clean, and desist from open defecation and littering. 

“We also encourage that they desist from using unsafe alternative water sources and seek medical attention early, in the event of any illness.”

The water shortage outcry by residents has prompted the council to appeal to the Government to declare the situation a state of disaster to enable the ease of harnessing funding from partners to finance emergency interventions.

According to the council, the urgent rehabilitation of boreholes at Nyamandlovu aquifer, drilling of more boreholes across the city, and urgent construction of the Glass Block Dam in Insiza District are seen as potential immediate solutions. These require an estimated US$14 million, which the local authority does not have. 

The proposals have been submitted for urgent consideration by the Government, which has already responded by repairing some of the damaged boreholes in Nyamandlovu with the view to increase volumes pumped to the city.

The outbreak of diarrhoea comes at a time when the country is battling cholera with 128 new suspected cases recorded on March 4, taking the country’s cumulative suspected cases to 27 182. The first cholera outbreak was recorded in February last year. 

Of the 128 new suspected cases reported on Monday, 46 were from Mashonaland Central while 38 were from Harare. Eight suspected cases were from Chitungwiza, four from Manicaland, and another eight from Mashonaland East.

Mashonaland West recorded 13 cases, Masvingo had nine while two were from the Midlands. To date, Zimbabwe has 

26 482 recoveries and 71 confirmed deaths.

In a post-Cabinet briefing yesterday, the Government reported that during the period February 21 to 27, there were 961 new suspected cholera cases reported, compared to the 1 025 reported the previous week, reflecting a seven percent decrease. 

“The cholera cases are emanating mainly from unsupervised religious gatherings and funerals, and mobile artisanal miners residing in compounds with poor water and sanitation facilities, poor hand hygiene practice  and recurrent bursts of sewer reticulation systems in urban areas,” said Dr Jenfan Muswere, the Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services.

Minister of Information Publicity and Broadcasting Services Dr Jenfan Muswere

“However, the marked decrease in the number of cases is attributed to high community awareness, improved case management with the establishment of oral rehydration points and cholera treatment camps and the impact of the vaccination programme.”

In response to the cholera challenges, the minister said more community health workers have been deployed to conduct door-to-door health education, administer oral rehydration solutions in communities, and promote good hygiene practices. To sustain quick wins, he said the Ministry of Health and Child Care will continue to monitor and supervise religious gatherings and funerals, as well as intensify risk communication and community engagement. 

Meanwhile, Dr Muswere said the Cabinet had authorized the decommissioning of Cholera Treatment Centres in areas where cases have been reduced to zero and the redistribution of equipment and supplies to emerging hotspots, and the extension of vaccination in Harare to include other hotspots within the suburbs that were not initially targeted.

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