Combating cholera in Kanyama

TRADERS unblocking a drainage in Lusaka. PICTURE: COLLINS PHIRI

MUTALE scurries from one pit latrine to another with a box of bio-enzymes. She is wearing a white dustcoat, a face mask and gumboots to protect herself.

Here in Kanyama, the epicentre of the cholera outbreak, the threat of the waterborne disease could not be more real and ominous. The township has recorded over 700 cases and 25 deaths since the outbreak of the disease last October.
Mutale and her colleague are part of an army of environmental technicians working tirelessly to stop the spread of cholera in Kanyama.
The two weave through non-descript homes, most of them with unplastered walls and stop wherever they spot a pit latrine. She and her colleague then mix the cream powder in a bucket of water before pouring it into the latrine.
The bio-enzymes are meant to breakdown the faecal matter in the latrines, thereby reducing their quantity.
Mutale then asks the tenants and landlords a few questions and records the results on a log sheet. She wants to know how many people use each latrine.
In some cases, up to 30 individuals use one pit latrine, while some homesteads have no toilet at all.
Queen Bwalya owns a cluster of five shabby houses she inherited from her parents. But there is no toilet for the tenants, who have to go to the neighbour’s whenever they have to answer the call of nature.
When I ask Mutale if there has been any improvement in the sanitary conditions in Kanyama since she started working in the township, she shakes her head.
“What we need more is a change of mind-set,” she tells me, her words muffled by her face mask.
But some residents are now taking precautionary measures very serious.
“Everyone is now washing their hands after using the toilet, including our children,” says Michael Shaluwale.
“We are really scared of this disease, and we know we have to do exactly what the health people are telling us to prevent it,” he says.
Mr Shaluwale owns a number of small houses he rents out. But there is only one toilet to be shared by five families.
“I know one toilet is not enough, but I’m planning to build another one soon,” he says.
Lansilod Habeenzu is one of the oldest settlers in Kanyama. He bought the place in 1961 and reminisces about a township that resembled a rural village, with thatched houses.
But he says he has never seen such a disease threat in Kanyama before.
Mr Habeenzu says water has been the biggest problem in Kanyama.
“We are now happy because the government has brought us piped water. Before that, we used to get our water from wells. We used to think that was okay, but now we realise that we were creating a problem for ourselves, because that water was not safe,” he says.
At a nearby water point, women take turns drawing water from a communal tap. Previously, they paid a small amount to fill a container, but since the outbreak of cholera, they now draw for free.
It is a blessing for some residents whose livelihoods have been put on hold following the closure of many trading places.
Many of the Kanyama township dwellers were small-time traders vending on the streets around the central business district and in markets.
For three years, Phoebe Phiri, sold second-hand shirts from a makeshift stand on Lumumba Road, then came the army and bulldozed everything in a clean-up exercise.
She and many other residents are now faced with an uncertain future after they lost their trading places in town.
Phoebe is not sure if she will return to her usual trading place.
“Maybe I will go back, I don’t know,” she says.
The first cholera case in Lusaka was reported at Chipata First-Level Hospital by Jonathan Daka, a resident of Mazyopa, who took his sick child to the health facility on October 4.
He would later take his second child to the hospital with the same symptoms, and both cases were confirmed as cholera.
Mr Daka and his family now have access to piped clean water provided by Government.
As I leave Kanyama, I meet another team of workers from the Zambia Red Cross going from door-to-door dishing out bottles of chlorine to the residents, and giving them talks on how to protect themselves from getting cholera.

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