Zimbabwe restricts gatherings, food vending as cholera cases spike

By Nyasha Chingono

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s government has started restricting public gatherings and food vending, while monitoring burials in all areas affected by cholera, after cases of the disease spiked this week.

New cholera cases in the southern African country trebled from 437 to 1,259 this week, the biggest jump since the latest outbreak of the water-borne disease started in February. This has triggered panic in Zimbabwe, where more than 4,000 people died from cholera in 2008.

To date, the country has recorded 155 deaths linked to cholera from 8,787 cases, according to the health ministry. The authorities last week declared a state of emergency in the capital Harare, which has the highest number of new infections.

On Friday, residents in Harare’s low-income Kuwadzana suburb, where seven of the capital’s 13 cholera deaths were reported, complained about erratic supplies of clean water, uncollected garbage and raw sewage flowing in the streets.

Many residents have dug shallow wells to meet their household water needs.

“The water from the boreholes has also become contaminated. They are encouraging us to treat the water before drinking and to come to the hospital if we feel sick,” a visibly frail Bertha Rwizi said as she received treatment at Kuwadzana polyclinic, where the authorities have set up three emergency cholera treatment tents.

Health worker Mercy Chiweshe said clean water was key to treating cholera cases as well as preventing further infections.

“We are appealing for boreholes because the shortage of water is affecting us and for residents to maintain good hygiene,” she said.

Harare’s municipal authorities have been distributing water treatment tablets to residents as part of efforts to fight the diarrhoeal disease.

(Reporting by Nyasha Chingono; Editing by Nelson Banya, Olivia Kumwenda-Mtmabo and Mark Potter)