ZIO MWALE, Lusaka
SHAKING hands is a traditional way of greeting in Zambia. But with about 69 cases of cholera reported in Lusaka’s Mazyopa, Kabanana, Chipata, Kanyama, Ng’ombe and SOS area, Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya has directed that people at all gatherings should break this traditional to contain the disease.
Dr Chilufya who has put Lusaka on cholera alert, has also advised people to observe high levels of hygiene and avoid unnecessary public gatherings.
So far, the affected communities are informal settlements where the majority of residents depend on boreholes and wells to access water for domestic use.
Of about 69 cholera cases reported in Lusaka majority been children, 34 people were successfully treated and discharged by the Chipata Level 1 Hospital.
In a ministerial statement to Parliament last Thursday, Dr Chilufya cited water contamination and poor sanitation as causes of the current cholera outbreak.
He said health teams have visited affected areas and identified inadequate access to clean and safe water, poor sanitation and infected water sources as the risk factors.
“Preliminary investigations in the matter show that inadequate access to clean water is the main catalyst for the cholera outbreak,” he said.
Dr Chilufya stated that his ministry has set up an incident management system at Kanyama and Chipata level one hospitals.
Cholera is a serious diarrhoeal disease which could kill within hours if a patient remains untreated.
Its common symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle cramps, rapid heart rate, dry mucous membranes, including the inside of the mouth, throat, nose, and eyelids.
Public health specialist for Chipata Level 1 Hospital Caroline Phiri said the hospital is distributing chlorine in the surrounding communities and has also intensified awareness campaigns to educate residents on the disease outbreak and personal hygiene.
Door-to-door sensitisation programmes have been instituted by medical personnel who are engaging residents on cholera prevention measures.
“We have observed that affected areas are lagging behind in terms of hygiene. To combat this, they need proper health education,” Dr Phiri said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines cholera as an acute diarrhoea infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio Cholerae.
The organisation records that each year, there are 1.3 to 4 million cases of cholera, and 21 000 to 143 000 deaths worldwide due to the disease.
To stop cholera cases from escalating, the Ministry of Health is using door-to-door awareness programmes to encourage people to adopt hygienic practices such as boiling water before drinking, washing hands with soap after using the toilet and the need to avoid eating contaminated foods.
Other lessons being taught include the importance of keeping surroundings clean to prevent the spread of germs.
In addition, there is a call on everyone in the capital Lusaka to avoid buying food, fruits and vegetables from the streets.
“We are providing free chlorine for all residents in the affected areas, we also putting chlorine in wells and septic tanks,” Dr Phiri shared.
She added that poor drainages, use of shallow wells for drinking water, open defecation are some of the drivers of the cholera bacteria.
“This is common in the rainy season when drinking water sources especially wells get contaminated. Food may also get contaminated in the process,” Dr Phiri explained.
She advised that the general public should take the recent cholera outbreak as an eye opener for reinforcing their commitment to maintaining hygiene in their environments.
“We are also inspecting fresh foods sold in markets, bars, restaurants and all water sources like wells in the affected areas,” she said.
According to UNICEF, 2016 recorded about 567 cases of cholera in the country.
The outbreak that was initially reported in Kanyama, a high density community, spread to other areas within the district, bringing the total number of cholera cases reported in Lusaka district to 226.
This shows how quickly cholera spreads especially in high density areas.
Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Community Development and Social Welfare Howard Sikwela explained that regardless of the low number of cases recorded, people need to observe preventative measures to avoid the disease from spreading and spiraling out of control.
He said highly-populated areas are prone to cholera outbreaks because most people lack access to running water and sanitation facilities, whereas indiscriminate garbage disposal is another contributing factor.
“Cholera is contagious and spreads fast where water is a problem, it can be transmitted by direct contact with objects that are contaminated and it easily spreads,” he said.
Mr Sikwela advised households without running water to avoid drinking water from shallow wells.
He said his ministry is working with the Ministry of Health to sensitise people in the communities on the outbreak of cholera.
Mr Sikwela said all citizens need to join hands and fight cholera to prevent it from spreading to other parts of the country.