The spread of Cholera continues in Zimbabwe
8 December 2008 -- The spread of Cholera continues in Zimbabwe with more than 12 000 cases reported, out of which 560 have died. WHO is helping the country to manage the emergency and improve its overall health system.
Transcript of the podcast
Veronica Riemer: You’re listening to the WHO podcast. My name is Veronica Riemer and this is episode number 54.
The spread of Cholera continues in Zimbabwe.
The poverty-wracked southern African nation that is already struggling with political instability and rampant hyperinflation is now suffering a widespread outbreak of cholera. The major cause of the cholera outbreak is the lack of safe clean drinking water. This is a result of the decay of the country's water infrastructure. The capital Harare is the worst-affected area, and the disease may now be spilling across borders into South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique. Paul Garwood from the WHO Department Health Action in Crises is currently in Harare. WHO Spokesperson Fadela Chaib caught up with him and asked about the current health situation.
Fadela Chaib: What is the current situation?
Paul Garwood: The scale of the cholera outbreak now is extremely large, there is no getting away from the fact that we are in a major health emergency. This cholera outbreak is symptomatic of the great challenges this country's overall health system faces and so when we look at the health system we see so many areas of concern, whether it be the lack of equipment, the lack of medicines, the lack of health staff turning up at their posts, the poor standard of the water systems, hospitals without clean water let alone communities themselves, you know, health facilities without clean water. Combine these set of major challenges and they go towards producing a chronic health emergency.
Veronica: The World Health Organization is supporting the Ministry of Health in responding to the cholera outbreak and the overall longer-term strengthening of the country's health system. Paul told us about the latest statement from the ministry.
Paul Garwood: The minister of health has described the cholera situation as an emergency. He said that we have recorded cases in nine out of the country's 10 provinces, and cases are going across the border. We are seeing, in trying to treat these cases, challenges in finding enough staff to do so, enough supplies to do so. This outbreak is the largest in Zimbabwe's recorded history. Up to now we have seen more than 560 people die as a result of cholera, and more than 12 000 contract cholera. The cholera outbreak is symptomatic of a wider scale problem of the health system in Zimbabwe. The standard of the system has deteriorated quite considerably over the last years through lack of funding, lack of supplies and in recent times we have seen fewer health staff, particularly nurses, turn up at their posts due to difficulties obtaining their salaries.
Veronica Riemer: Paul described his visit to a cholera treatment centre.
Paul Garwood: I visited a cholera treatment centre on the western outskirts of Harare, this area is in a way the major source of most of the cases in the capital. The centre that I visited on a good day would normally be treating all kinds of health conditions, they would be delivering babies, or treating wounds, or doing anything else that a normal polyclinic would be doing. But due to this outbreak it has devoted all of its energies totally to treating cholera patients and one of the difficulties at the clinic has been the fact that so few staff are working there at the moment.
There is a skeleton staff of senior doctors and nurses providing treatment to a wide range of cholera cases, some with moderate cholera and some more severe. Also assisting there were UN and NGOs and partners including UNICEF and MSF. They set up their own cholera treatment tents in the car park to take some of the patients that wouldn't have anywhere else to rest. I suppose because the facility itself is crowded. One of the challenges in this area is access to safe clean drinking water and appropriate sanitation. This facility is receiving so many cases because access to water is quite difficult and sanitation standards are quite low.
Veronica Riemer: WHO Representative to Zimbabwe, Dr Custodia Mandlhate, talked about WHO's response.
Dr Custodia Mandlhate: WHO is playing a significant role in terms of advocacy, we are also supporting in terms of cholera response. WHO is the Health Cluster lead so it is bringing together many other partners acting in health all together. We are meeting to coordinate our actions. Of course, we are supporting on logistics, we have purchased cholera kits, trauma kits, we are providing technical support in case identification, case management, data management.
Veronica Riemer: For more information about the crisis in Zimbabwe, visit our web site at www.who.int/disasters
That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening. If you have any comments on our podcast or have any suggestions for future health topics drop us a line. Our email address is Podcast@who.int.
For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.