Lockdown returns to Zimbabwe as health experts try to bring cholera outbreak under control

Restrictions put in place after almost 5,000 suspected new cases were recorded

This latest outbreak, Zimbabwe’s biggest since 2018, is thought to have been caused by unhygienic conditions and blocked sewers CREDIT: JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images

Zimbabwe has introduced a slew of lockdown-style measures to combat a resurgence of cholera.

All public gatherings are banned in the southeastern Zaka district if they do not have official approval, while people have been discouraged from shaking hands, eating at gatherings and buying food from unlicensed vendors in the capital, Harare.

Almost 5,000 suspected new cases of cholera have been recorded since late last month, with the death toll hitting a reported 100, according to the health ministry.

The outbreak, the biggest since 2018, was caused by unhygienic conditions and blocked sewers, the government has said.

The new restrictions include a ban on large gatherings at funerals, which are common in the country as people flock to mourn the dead, in the worst affected areas of the Manicaland and Masvingo provinces.

No more than 50 people are allowed to attend and serving food is banned.

The epicentre of the outbreak is the impoverished southeastern district of Buhera, but it has quickly spread across the country, including the capital Harare.

All 10 provinces of Zimbabwe have reported cases since the fresh outbreak was announced earlier this year.

Cholera is an acute diarrheal illness caused by poor sanitation and the ingestion of contaminated water or food.

Outbreaks occur regularly in Zimbabwean cities where supplies of drinking water and sanitation facilities are erratic and infrastructure has collapsed due to years of neglect.

In some areas of the country, people can go months without tap water, forcing them to rely on unsafe sources like shallow wells, boreholes or rivers.

In 2008, a major cholera outbreak claimed at least 4,000 lives in Zimbabwe and at least 100,000 people fell ill.

It happened at the height of the country’s economic crisis when most of the public hospitals were closed due to a shortage of medicines and the flight of health workers abroad.

In southern Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa and Mozambique have all had recent cholera outbreaks.

The World Health Organization previously warned that the risk of large-scale outbreaks is increasing due to climate change, which has made tropical storms that limit access to clean water and sanitation more common.

“Cholera thrives in poverty and conflict but is now turbocharged by climate change,” Inas Hamam, a regional spokeswoman for the World Health Organization, said in November 2022. “Regional and global health security is in jeopardy.”

Cholera transmission has been linked to seasonal trends in rain, and especially extreme weather events such as abrupt and heavy rainfall, alongside warming temperatures which increases the growth of the bacteria.

The Malawi outbreak began in districts hit by Tropical Storm Ana and Tropical Cyclone Gombe.

The outbreak, which was the country’s worst in decades, killed more than 1,600 people with over 51,000 cases recorded.

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