A typhoid outbreak that began in Harare last year is steadily spreading across Zimbabwe with more than 3 000 cases reported although only one death due to the disease has been reported so far, health officials have said.
New infections have in recent months been recorded in districts lying several hundreds of kilometres away from the capital, highlighting the risk that the typhoid outbreak could turn into a crisis of similar proportions to a cholera epidemic that wrecked havoc across Zimbabwe from 2008 to 2009.
Ministry of health director of epidemiology and disease control Portia Manangazira told the parliamentary portfolio committee on health and child welfare that the ministry did not have the capacity including adequate medicines to combat a major outbreak of typhoid.
“We actually have an outbreak that is raging,” said Manangazira. “It is important to note that diarrhoeal cases usually precede serious outbreaks like what happened when we had that cholera outbreak,” said Manangazira, herself a trained medical doctor.
She added: “If we look at a potential outbreak, we don’t have the medicine to deal with it, for instance in Bindura we ran out of Ciprofloxacilin, a drug of choice.”
Manangazira said areas where typhoid cases have been reported included in Harare’s working class suburbs of Kuwadzana, Mufakose and Crowbrough, while more cases were reported from Bindura town in Mashonaland Central province and from Norton and Zvimba in Mashonaland West province.
The disease was expected to affect several more Harare suburbs and other outlying districts and towns such as Makone and Chegutu in Mashonaland West province and Mt Darwin and Guruve in Mashonaland central province.
The first cases of typhoid were reported in Harare last October, with city officials blaming the outbreak on contaminated food sold in the open in the capital’s low-income suburbs.
As part of efforts to halt the disease from spreading, municipal officials ordered the closure of open market food stalls, while also announcing they would launch an exercise to ensure hotels, restaurants and other food outlets comply with acceptable standards of hygiene.
The last cholera epidemic between August 2008 and July 2009 — which the World Health Organisation labelled the worst outbreak of the disease in Africa in 15 years — killed more than 4 000 people out of more than 100 000 infections before it was brought under control.
Health experts have warned that Zimbabwe remains at risk of another major outbreak of waterborne diseases because the same problems that helped drive the last cholera epidemic remain unresolved, with six million people or half of the country’s total population of 12 million people with little or no access to safe water and sanitation.
The power-sharing government of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe promised on coming to power in 2009 to rebuild the economy and restore basic services such as water supplies, health and education that had collapsed after years of neglect and under-funding.
But the cash-strapped administration has found it hard to undertake any meaningful reconstruction work after failing to get financial support from rich Western nations that insist they want to see more political reforms before they can loosen the purse strings.
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