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The UN expressed concern about the spread of cholera in ten African countries.
Africa Science & Health

The UN expressed concern about the spread of cholera in ten African countries.

This week, the United Nations Children’s Fund raised concerns about a cholera epidemic in Africa that has reached 10 countries. The situation in Zambia and Zimbabwe is particularly concerning.

According to Dr. Paul Ngwakum, the regional health advisor for UNICEF in East and Southern Africa, approximately 200,000 cases have been documented and over 3,000 individuals have succumbed to the illness.

Out of the 10 countries he identified with ongoing outbreaks, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Somalia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe are currently experiencing an “acute cholera crisis.”

Ngwakum stated that the main contributing factors are enduring issues with water sanitation and hygiene, which are further compounded by shifting weather patterns and the effects of climate change resulting in extreme events such as floods and droughts. Additionally, end-of-year celebrations and insufficient community awareness play a role, as well as delayed efforts to seek help for those who have been impacted.

“Regrettably, children bear the largest burden of the impact,” he stated. “In fact, children under the age of 15 make up more than 52% of the cases in Zambia.”

According to Ngwakum, both Zambia and Zimbabwe have seen a significant increase in the number of cholera cases since the Christmas and New Year holidays. Each of the neighboring countries is reporting 1,000 cases per week.

He stated that the current state in Zambia and Zimbabwe is extremely grave. These two nations are experiencing the highest impact in the surrounding area. In Zambia, nine out of ten provinces have reported cases.

According to Ngwakum, the mortality rate for the disease is concerning, as 4% of the 9,000 cases have resulted in death.

He stated that this is an exceptionally high number, as the acceptable limit is less than 1%. In the first few months of 2024, Zimbabwe has reported over 17,000 cases and approximately 384 fatalities. Furthermore, these numbers are steadily spreading to new locations.

A man walks past flowing sewage in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Jan. 17, 2024. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)

On January 17, 2024, a man in Harare, Zimbabwe is seen walking by a stream of sewage. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)

Residents in Zimbabwe are being forced to rely on open sources due to a scarcity of purified water. This, combined with the lack of waste collection and functioning sewage systems, is being attributed to the spread of waterborne illnesses.

Zimbabwe’s Minister of Health, Douglas Mombeshora, stated that the national government is taking necessary measures to control the spread of the outbreak, beginning in the capital city, Harare.

According to Mombeshora, in Harare, people are disposing of trash in areas that are not designated for waste, and this waste has not been collected. The government has taken steps to gather resources in order to clean up Harare. They are also working on procuring chemicals to treat water, as the supply of clean water has decreased from 350 megaliters per day to 200 megaliters per day.

Itai Rusike, the head of the Community Working Group on Health in Zimbabwe, urged the government to officially declare a national emergency in order for global aid organizations like WHO, UNICEF, and USAID to promptly assist in controlling the spread of the cholera epidemic.

The responsibility for implementing measures to stop cholera lies with the government, whether at the central or local level. This includes ensuring access to clean water and proper sanitation, as well as promoting hygienic disposal practices. The government is ultimately responsible for making sure people have reliable access to safe drinking water, garbage is collected in a timely manner, and any broken sewage pipes are promptly repaired. They are also responsible for informing the public about cholera guidelines and protocols.

If the outbreaks are not contained, UNICEF is concerned that schools will have to close, as is currently happening in Zambia.