Get Informed, Stay Inspired

Zimbabwe is optimistic that the UN-provided cholera vaccines will effectively control the outbreak.
Africa Science & Health

Zimbabwe is optimistic that the UN-provided cholera vaccines will effectively control the outbreak.

Health officials in Zimbabwe are currently working to control a cholera outbreak that has impacted over 20,000 individuals and resulted in over 370 deaths. They are optimistic that the distribution of donated vaccines will help to mitigate the spread of this waterborne illness, which is currently affecting 60 out of the country’s 64 districts.

The Health Minister of Zimbabwe, Douglas Mombeshora, announced during a press conference in Harare on Wednesday that the nation has reported 20,121 possible cases of cholera and 376 fatalities, with six occurring in the past day. He also revealed that the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund have acquired 2.3 million doses of cholera vaccine for Zimbabwe, with approximately 900,000 of them set to be distributed next week.

“The implementation of the vaccination plan will commence on January 29th, in a gradual manner targeting the areas with high incidence. This is due to the limited supply of doses which cannot cover the entire country. As more vaccines become available, the campaign will expand to other affected districts. However, the global shortage of vaccines for cholera, which is not limited to Zimbabwe alone, means that all countries with reported cases are competing for the same source of vaccines. The distribution is now being managed by the WHO to ensure fair access, as otherwise, only wealthy countries would have access to the vaccines.”

According to Mombeshora, 37 African nations have reported cases of cholera. However, the World Health Organization’s Africa division did not verify this number on Wednesday.

Garbage in most urban areas in Zimbabwe, such as Harare, goes uncollected for days, weeks or even months, creating a fertile breeding ground for cholera. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)

In many cities in Zimbabwe, like Harare, trash is not picked up for extended periods of time, providing ideal conditions for the spread of cholera. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)

According to Dr. Paul Ngwakum, the regional health adviser for UNICEF in eastern and southern Africa, the ongoing cholera outbreak is a significant public health issue that is affecting the lives of children in the area. The region is currently experiencing a drastic increase in cholera cases, which can be attributed to various factors such as severe weather conditions like droughts, cyclones, and floods. Due to the porous borders and frequent movement of people, the spread of cholera is happening rapidly.

Mombeshora is encouraging Zimbabweans to willingly receive the cholera vaccination.

He stated that this is not a novel vaccine and it has been utilized globally. The reason for its limited availability is due to it being produced upon request. Hence, it is the identical vaccine and it is extremely secure. There have been no negative reports from previous usage. I have personally received a cholera vaccine in the past, many years ago, with no cause for concern.

Harare’s public health director, Dr. Prosper Chonzi, urges people to continue practicing good hygiene despite the availability of vaccines. He expressed concern over the high number of unregulated fruit and vegetable vendors in the city.

Vendors have remained on the streets of Harare, selling uninspected vegetables and fruits which public health authorities say is hindering efforts to contain Zimbabwe's cholera outbreak. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)

Street vendors in Harare continue to sell unexamined fruits and vegetables, despite warnings from public health officials that this is impeding efforts to control the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe. (Reported by Columbus Mavhunga for VOA)

“He expressed concern about the current state of the economy and how it is affecting our efforts. The strategy of playing hide-and-seek with vendors has been unsuccessful and it is time to shift our focus. Our priority should now be cleaning up the city and implementing plans for maintaining a clean environment in the future. As the director of health, I am disappointed with the vending situation in the city as it goes against our goals of containing the outbreak. Purchasing food from uninspected premises increases the risk of contracting not only cholera, but also typhoid, dysentery, and other forms of diarrhea.”

The struggling economy in Zimbabwe is pushing people to turn to vending as a means of making money due to the scarcity of job opportunities. Unemployment rates are estimated to be as high as 85%. This is hindering efforts to combat a cholera outbreak, with the United Nations reporting 1,000 new cases per week since the start of the year.