Mother and son survive Zambia’s deadly cholera outbreak

LUSAKA (Reuters) – Sandra Nyendwa used to drink unfiltered water in Zambia’s capital Lusaka without concern, until she and her seven-year-old son got cholera in an outbreak sweeping the country.

Both fell badly ill last week, joining more than 10,000 people infected by the disease that has killed at least 432 since October, according to government figures.

Nyendwa’s son complained of stomach pain, turned pale and started vomiting. When Nyendwa succumbed, her grandmother had to come in to look after the rest of the children. The whole family feared for their lives as medics cared for them in a clinic.

But they both recovered and made it back home. “I didn’t believe I would come back alive from the hospital. It was very bad,” Nyendwa told Reuters.

“I can only thank God and the nurses. I wasn’t expecting to be in my house by this time because I was in a terrible state.”

Nine out of Zambia’s 10 provinces have reported cholera cases, although the vast majority are in Lusaka, a city of some 3 million people, where authorities have set up a makeshift treatment centre outside the National Heroes Stadium.

“We never used to chlorinate and we were just using direct (water) from the tank,” Nyendwa said. “We didn’t know that there was an outbreak of the disease, but now we know.”

Cholera is spread through contaminated food or water, typically in crowded environments where people lack access to clean water and sanitation. Serious cases can cause acute diarrhoea and, if untreated, death.

Neighbouring Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique have also been battling cholera since last year as outbreaks surged worldwide and vaccines ran out.

Zambia has had to mobilize retired health workers and volunteers to help with the cholera effort, Health Minister Sylvia Masebo said at the treatment centre in Lusaka.

“We’ve had to remove certain staff from other facilities to bring them here. And that itself is a negative because it does affect the operations of the health centres,” she said.

(Reporting by Moses Mwape; additional reporting by Chris Mfula; Writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Andrew Heavens)