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DEPUTY Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya checks hygiene standards at a market in Livingstone recently. PICTURE: SHIKANDA KAWANGA

State combatting Cholera aggressively

REPORTS of Cholera outbreaks always cause panic due to the nature of the disease. This is mostly because of the rate at which the waterborne disease spreads in townships.
Until recently, Zambia has not had any cases of Cholera for the past five years. The reason for the six-year period the country did not have any outbreak has been attributed to the various measures that Government and its stakeholders had put in place such as the Keep Zambia Clean and Healthy; a programme that encouraged environmental cleanliness.
The recent reports of an outbreak call for people to reinforce their commitment to keeping and maintaining their environment clean as well as adopting safer behaviours with regard to personal hygiene and indiscriminate throwing of garbage.
Health experts have also advised people to avoid gatherings and unnecessary handshakes must be avoided at all costs.
Other measures to adopt to prevent a cholera outbreak include community health education messages and treatment of septic tanks in most communities, washing of hands with clean water and soap before and after eating foods, washing of fruits with clean and safe water before eating them, eating properly-cooked food.
Currently, Lusaka and Chibombo districts have recorded 30 and eight suspected cholera cases respectively as at Monday, February 15, 2016.
Confirming this during a press briefing in Livingstone recently, Minister of Health Joseph Kasonde said 14 cases have been confirmed by laboratory examinations in Lusaka while Chibombo has two positive tests of cholera.
Dr Kasonde said the outbreak began in Kanyama compound. The first case was of a child aged 18 months who was said to have been presented with diarrhoea and vomiting.
“Unfortunately, the child died at home before getting to the health facility. The first four confirmed cases were members of the same family who reported at Kanyama Hospital on  February 7, 2016” he said.
Dr Kasonde said as part of Government’s measures to prevent the spread of the water-borne disease, the Ministry of Finance has released K25 million to the Ministry of Health to support preparedness and response activities for the epidemic.
“We need to continue investing in long-term measures that ensure that the community has access to clean and safe water supply as well as assuring food safety.
“I therefore urge the civic and community leaders to provide leadership and play their role in the prevention and control of cholera in their respective communities,” he said.
Dr Kasonde said the Ministry of Health has put measures in place measures such as a national epidemic preparedness, prevention,control and management committee, which are meeting regularly to monitor and provide guidance.
He said all health institutions in the country have been put on alert to reenforce preventive measures and reactivate epidemic preparedness committees.
The minister also said the ministry is re-orienting health workers in cholera response and management in the affected areas and further embarking on health promotion activities to sensitise the communities.
Dr Kasonde said the ministry is also providing free domestic chlorine, particularly to affected communities, and opened cholera treatment centres in Lusaka.
He said all necessary logistics drugs and medical supplies are being mobilised while health staff is being mobilised to attend to patients.
Dr Kasonde said the ministry is further mobilising health inspectors and environmental health staff to strengthen inspection of eating and drinking places, bars, taverns, restaurants and general dealer shops and schools.
“For those not meeting public health standards, notices of closure are being issued immediately. Apart from environmental health staff conducting contact tracing, community-based health workers have been mobilised to ensure that all patients and contacts are traced and their homes thoroughly disinfected,” he said.
Dr Kasonde said the current outbreak started on February 7 this year although Lusaka had not reported cases of cholera for the past six years.
He said currently, there are cholera outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Malawi and Tanzania.
Dr Kasonde said the prevention and control require multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary response and strong community partnership and participation.
He said the combined efforts by the Ministry of Health and other stakeholders would not have any impact in cholera control and prevention without the full involvement of individuals at community level.
Dr Kasonde said citizens should practise high standards of personal hygiene by cleaning their homes and surroundings, avoiding indiscriminate throwing of garbage, handshakes and large gatherings and washing hands with clean water and soap before and after eating foods.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Cholera spreads very widely and has affected about 98 countries since 1961.
In the same year (1961), the infection had spread to Indonesia, Philippines, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Burma, Thailand, India and the old Soviet Union.
In 1970, it spread to the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Africa where highest mortality and morbidity rates occur.
The first outbreak of cholera in Zambia was recorded between 1978 and 1979 with Lusaka recording the first outbreak in 1990.