by Evernice Tayisepi
Budiriro has been Zimbabwe’s leading cholera hotspot since the worst outbreak in 2008 which claimed thousands of lives. According to the World Health Organisation Zimbabwe data, in 2008, approximately half of cholera cases were recorded in Budiriro, a heavily populated suburb on the western outskirts of the capital city, Harare. The new development, where another cholera outbreak was announced therefore raises fears of a repeat of the 2008 and 2018 cholera outbreak that killed and infected several thousands of people. Cholera has killed more than 100 people and infected 5000 since February 2023, according to government estimates.
Municipality water is very scarce in Budiriro and in some parts of the suburb, municipality water is never available, leaving residents with no option but to get and use water from unprotected water sources. There is a lack of prioritization of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) situation by Harare City Council. Water is in short supply across the suburb with residents largely dependent on community boreholes and shallow wells, of which the majority of the boreholes are dysfunctional due to poor maintenance and theft. Residents say their struggles to access clean water or water purification supplies have recently intensified as water tables have dropped due to the high temperatures in summer. It is very alarming, because cholera occurs where water supply, sanitation, food safety and hygiene are inadequate (City of Harare, 2009). This puts residents at a greater risk of catching the disease.
Worsening the situation, is that informal trading sites have no water and sanitation facilities. There are also no toilets or sources of water to service the majority of vendors in the suburb, thereby leaving the health and life of many at stake as the country is at the verge of a cholera outbreak. Sewerage bursts are also everywhere, yet they are not being urgently attended to when reports of the bursts are made to council offices in the suburb. Often, there is minimal responsiveness of the council in tackling this health concerning issue and the cholera problem is not new. We have had it for a while and in the worst times of the outbreak (2008), there used to be health workers who would move around communities distributing water purification tablets to treat open wells. That is not happening anymore.
The outbreak can be contained, but it will depend on many factors, to be specific a coordinated approach between all health providers to make sure the right interventions where they are needed most, are provided.
Interventions such as prevention, quick case detection, control and improved treatment are necessary. Improved access to oral rehydration salts for treating moderate dehydration, which is a symptom of cholera, is necessary as it could help quickly reduce infections and deaths. Authorities should forbid shaking hands especially in largely populated areas, serving food at gatherings, frequenting open-air markets, unlicensed vendors and gatherings. There is need for the Harare City Council to strengthen response efforts on the ground and to ensure availability of clean water. Medicines should be adequate and staff health facilities should always be checked or monitored if they are enough to cater for residents or patients. Refuse should also be collected to avoid dirty and flies mounting up. Among many other recommendation, this can help reduce the spread of cholera.