REPORTS that a new typhoid outbreak, which killed nine people in Gweru in the last few weeks, has spread to Kadoma and Masvingo, should raise alarm bells and jolt government to move swiftly to tackle the crisis which if left unattended, could easily morph into a national crisis.
Three new cases that were reported in Kadoma and two in Masvingo’s Runyararo suburb show the lack of preparedness by government and its arms to eliminate communicable diseases associated with basic hygiene. Typhoid — a waterborne disease — which is spread mostly by contaminated water and food, is one of faeco-orally transmitted diseases burdening the health sector.
Symptoms include persistently high fever, abdominal pains of up to three weeks and constipation or diarrhoea. The Health and Child Care ministry recently confirmed that 1 500 cases of typhoid were diagnosed in Gweru last month — a figure the State should be ashamed of.
For instance, the ministry should have embarked on a massive awareness campaign on radio, newspapers and other media outlets to teach the public about the causes, giving tips on avoiding contracting the disease, and highlighting the areas affected so that residents can take precautions.
In the same vein, local authorities should have taken a more proactive role in preventing the spread of the disease, providing timely interventions in the affected areas, and enforcing public health and safety standards more robustly. As it is, very little is being done besides attending to those who are taken ill. Whereas leaders should have a free hand to search for solutions to the problems facing the society, it would be advisable to first seek home-grown solutions that have been proven to work effectively to mitigate the immediate challenge before looking for outside solutions.
Most towns have been battling to provide potable water to ratepayers and to treat sewage effluent, a development that has forced ratepayers to use unsafe water sources and resort to open defecation or flying toilets in areas such as Matapi Flats which has also borne the brunt of a typhoid outbreak in recent months.
Gweru and Masvingo residents are currently facing massive water cuts as local authorities battle with shortages of water purification chemicals, ageing pipes and pumping equipment and incessant power cuts at pumping stations.
With a shrinking revenue base due to high unemployment which has led to residents defaulting in rates payment, city fathers face a herculean task of trying to balance service provision with massive wage bills.
City fathers are also to blame for the lack of public health monitoring systems to curb vending of consumables on the streets that has left the country grappling with typhoid and other related disease outbreaks.
Residents should also desist from vending at undesignated places which have no ablution facilities and dumping litter in open spaces, a situation that exacerbates the crisis.
We call upon government to provide funds for the replacement of ageing water pipes which have led to almost half of treated water not reaching ratepayers — a waste of both the precious liquid and expensive water treatment chemicals and urge local authorities to provide decent vending areas in towns. The health sector should also be adequately funded and equipped to deal with such national crises.
In Gweru, the health department was caught napping as the institutions dealing with the outbreak are ill-equipped for a crisis of such a magnitude. Treating typhoid patients at a TB referral centre was a near fatal mistake as both aliments are highly contagious. We call also upon government to relook its health budget to ensure it meets the Millennium Development Goals which stipulate that countries should devote more than 15% of their national budgets to health if we are to curb the outbreak of these Medieval diseases.