LILLIAN BANDA, Lusaka
“SOMETIMES it takes a tragic thing to happen in order for us to change our ways. I am happy that my neighbourhood is cleaner. Chitemwiko Road, in which my house is situated, looks wider and drainage is visible,” enthused Mable Mwale of Lusaka’s Mandevu township says.
Ms Mwale, 52, explains that prior to the outbreak of cholera, much of the infrastructure in the area was not visible as dirt and waste materials covered them.
She says residents around her neighbourhood decided to embark on a clean-up exercise to prevent cholera.
A significant number of households in her area have abandoned the practice of discriminate dumping of garbage in the roads and drains under the cover of darkness.
They now subscribe to firms that collect garbage in their community, thanks to their councillor for encouraging residents to do so.
Mandevu residents in her area are now vigilant against people who want to dump garbage in undesignated places.
Ms Mwale narrated how some residents instituted a citizen’s arrest on two people who were found dumping garbage on the road.
But she quickly pointed out, “We now need to focus on ways of sustaining these good habits.”
And a trader at Mandevu market said there are more people wanting to buy sealable water containers because they want to store their drinking water in clean containers.
Judy Banda, who sells a range of domestic utensils said the demand for water buckets that are used for washing hands in restaurants and now in public places, has gone up. This, she says is an indication that people have become health conscious and are taking measures to prevent communicable diseases such as cholera. She said schools are among the major clients that are buying buckets from her shop.
A visit to Kanyama township, one of the cholera hotspots, found that residents are taking preventive measures. And if media reports are anything to go by, the situation can be said to be the same in most, if not all other residential areas of Lusaka. The public can also attest to the fact that the central business district looks much cleaner and the roads seem to be wider.
“This should be our way of life. This is the kind of environment that human beings ought to live in. We hope and trust that this culture of cleanliness continues,” notes Kulima Tower Bus Station chairperson Tresford Mwewa
Mr Mwewa said all bus drivers at the station have been ordered to use waste bins to dissuade passengers from throwing litter in undesignated places.
Despite the loss of lives and general disturbance to the economy, something positive seems to have come out of the cholera situation. Communities have emerged stronger and adopted good hygiene practices. A good number of people seem to be aware of the need to keep their surroundings clean. Others have adopted simple but beneficial habits such as washing of hands with an anti-bacterial soap after using the toilet or before eating, drinking boiled or chlorinated water and ensuring that food is property cooked and stored. Others still have adopted proper ways of disposing waste because they have come to appreciate that it is such seemingly small things that could keep cholera at bay.
But what can be done to ensure that these good and helpful habits that have been developed almost overnight are sustained?
Some residents of Lusaka say that sensitisation programmes on good hygiene should continue whereas the relevant authorities should intervene to improve sanitation and the supply of clean and safe water in the communities.
“We need to ensure that laws pertaining to public health matters are upheld. In this case, the public should be able to institute a citizen’s arrest on anyone found discarding waste and waste materials anyhow,” says George Mumba, a resident of Matero in Lusaka.
He adds, “It will be very unwise of us to go back to the way things were before the outbreak of cholera.”
Gift Nakamonga of Kamwala South in Lusaka said sensitisation campaigns should continue because attitude change does not happen overnight.
And a Kanyama resident, Doreen Kamanga, said water utility companies should provide clean and safe drinking water to upcoming residential areas without fail.
“I had challenges getting water on my plot despite having money to pay for all processes involved. I had to wait for months. That alone is enough to compel someone to have a shallow well on their premises because people cannot live without water. It is prudent that we do away with this red tape,” Ms Kamanga said.
Cholera is a severe intestinal infection caused by strains of the bacteria vibrio cholerae. Symptoms include severe diarrhoea, vomiting, and profound shock. Untreated cholera is fatal.
The first outbreak of cholera in Zambia was reported in 1977/1978, and then cases appeared again in 1982/1983. The first major outbreak occurred in 1990 and lasted until 1993. Since then, cholera cases were registered every year except in 1994 and 1995. This is according to a report by the Zambia National Public Health Institute.