Zimbabweans Criticize Government’s Efforts in Anti-Cholera Campaign

Harare, Zimbabwe – When Priscilla Moyo’s husband Brian returned home to Harare from Mvurwi, about 100km north of the capital on Sunday night, he seemed well. By 11pm, he was battling diarrhoea.

When his situation was still the same on Tuesday morning, 39-year-old Moyo took him to a nearby clinic in Budiriro, the city suburb where they live. On arrival, she was told that her husband had cholera.

“He is being treated right now in there,” she said dejectedly pointing in the direction of a grey tent, a makeshift treatment ward at the clinic. “He is on an intravenous drip and they say he might go home today.”

Across Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces, a deluge of cases of cholera infections is crippling health facilities in the Southern African country.

Jessica Muzambezi, a young mother in the same suburb, lost her two-year-old son to cholera. “A burst sewer in my area caused the death of my son. The authorities did not attend to the sewer for two weeks,” she told Al Jazeera.

As of Tuesday, 25,780 cases of cholera have been recorded in Zimbabwe since the epidemic began last year. While the official government death toll stands at 470, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which is coordinating the mobilisation of resources for the anti-cholera campaign in conjunction with Zimbabwean authorities, put the number at 528. Children remain the most vulnerable, with a third of all cases affecting youngsters aged 15 and below.

Zimbabwe’s sewage system, part of its inherited colonial infrastructure, has been overwhelmed as the population grew from about 3.7 million in 1960 to 17 million today. And potable water remains unavailable in many parts of the country, as the struggling economy is yet to update that infrastructure.

The government of then-president Robert Mugabe blamed Western governments for the disease outbreak. Senior officials in his administration said the cholera epidemic was the outcome of a “serious biological chemical war” and a “calculated racist terrorist attack” being waged against Zimbabweans.

Zimbabwean authorities have also been distributing vaccines to minimise the impact of the epidemic. The country has received 97 per cent of the 2.3 million doses approved by the International Coordinating Group on Vaccine Provision( ICG) as of February 12, with more to come later in the month.

But there are fears that the mitigation efforts are coming too late and just as importantly, do not tackle the root of the problem. Some experts and activists also argue that the authorities have yet to learn lessons from the past.

For years, the city has not pumped water to many Harare households. Now, water flows through the taps once a week in most southern suburbs. Rubbish is still a common presence on street corners in the city despite government intervention.

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