“We can only defeat cholera if we work together. Taking measures to avoid contracting the disease is our call to action.”
These remarks by President Hakainde Hichilema were made last week at the height of a devastating disease that has drawn concerted efforts from various interest groups and cooperating partners to make one strong push to halt cholera that continues claiming lives.
By press time, close to 5,000 cases had been recorded countrywide with about 200 lives lost since the disease escalated about three months ago.
Zambia has been battling cholera since January last year in a few districts, but fresh outbreaks in October have seen an escalation of the disease with cases now reported in 27 districts in six of the 10 provinces.
The latest figures push Zambia closer to the top of the list of the countries with the highest number of cholera cases across the world.
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Afghanistan with over 29,000 cases, and Haiti at about 6,100 plus top the list of countries that are currently grappling with the disease.
Expressing his concern last week, the President emphasized that stringent measures will continue to be implemented to curb the further spread of the disease and urged citizens to adhere to the health guidelines being provided by health authorities.
Cholera was first recorded in Zambia in 1977 with Lusaka the main hotspot of the disease and over the decades the same pattern has continued.
Since the escalation of the disease in October last year, cholera has spread fast across the country. This rapid escalation of the disease has caused concerns among stakeholders including the citizenry who feel threatened by the alarming pace Cholera cases were rising.
However, Zambia National Public Health Institute Director-General Roma Chilengi assured that there are immediate measures that the government was undertaking and there are also plans for medium and long-term measures to halt the spread of the disease.
Prof Chilengi also explained that given the pressure being exerted on the health system by the huge number of patients coming through every day, the immediate focus now was to halt the rapid spread of the disease.
“We want to make sure that the means by which the transmission spreads, which are lack of safe drinking water and poor sanitation, are addressed quickly. I assure you that these are being tackled as the Government has responded with a one-government approach.
“All the line ministries are currently engaged and there are efforts to make sure that water is available in hotspot areas, and there are maximum cleaning efforts to enhance the cleanness of the environment in places where there are challenges,” the Professor said.
He further emphasised that the Government has responded with as many resources as unprecedented and the current campaign was been undertaken with internal resources as well as from cooperating partners and donors.
Indeed, it is visible that the response by the Government along with other players has been swift with a unity of purpose.
Cholera, an extremely virulent disease transmitted through the ingestion of contaminated food or water, poses a significant health threat that has gripped not only the people at home but also the international community.
So, last week, the World Health Organization responded to the Government SOS and pledged to provide Zambia with one million doses of cholera vaccines to help fight the waterborne disease.
According to Government estimates, the country needs about seven million doses of cholera vaccines to control the spreading disease that is now in six provinces having just started in the Eastern Province.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also joined and donated 320,000 sachets of Oral Rehydration Salt, a lifesaving commodity required in rehydration of all cases of cholera, meant for control and management of the epidemic.
UNICEF Acting Deputy Representative Tinkhani Musonda assured UNICEF’s continued support towards the fight against cholera.
Local private and public entities have also responded accordingly by playing a role in a health situation that calls for a collective approach to quickly subdue the disease.
Minister of Local Government Gary Nkombo has swiftly reactivated Statutory Instrument No. 12 of 2018 to completely ban street vending viewed to be a major catalyst in the generation of environments that breeds cholera.
Also, the National Disaster Management and Mitigation Council of Ministers comprising key ministries has been constituted by the Government to coordinate and guide all interventional cholera measures to mitigate the spread of the epidemic.
Last week, the Government designated Lusaka’s National Heroes Stadium as a Cholera centre following an increased number of cases.
According to Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary Technical Services Kennedy Lishimpi about 300 community members have been engaged as volunteers to assist in healthcare provision at the Cholera centre.
Education Minister Douglas Syakalima also announced that all learning institutions that had gone on recess will remain closed until the end of the month as a safety measure to protect learners from the scourge.
Likewise, the National Water Supply and Sanitation Council (NWASCO) has directed its utility companies countrywide to ensure water quality monitoring is enhanced by conducting ancillary tests.
NWASCO Public Relations Officer Mandamu Mayowe also urged utility companies to submit results for the Council to monitor and prevent the spread of cholera and other waterborne diseases.
During this cholera period, apart from the approved scheduled water quality sampling tests which are currently submitted quarterly, the utilities will further be required to submit reports detailing the measures being implemented for any failures observed.
Not to be left out, the Lusaka Provincial administration last week gave a one-week ultimatum to all council authorities in the province to improve the hygiene situation at markets or risk punitive action.
Provincial Minister Sheal Mulyata issued the ultimatum when she toured New Soweto and Michael Chilufya Sata markets which she described as deplorable.
“If the situation is left unchecked, cases of Cholera will continue increasing in Lusaka and hence I urge Councils and traders not to be complacent in the face of the Cholera outbreak. We have to change our attitude. Do not take things so casually,” the Minister cautioned.
She urged the Lusaka City Council (LCC) to sensitize traders on the importance of hygiene and undertake cholera interventions in public places.
The LCC being the custodian of the city regarded as the hottest hotspot of cholera has also reacted and become alive to the dire situation that has engulfed Lusaka during the past 12 months.
The Department of Public Health within the Council revealed it has taken significant steps to improve sanitation and hygiene conditions across the City.
This has seen the Council intensify the chlorination of water points and disinfection of pit latrines, hospitals and public places as well as enhance sensitisation programmes on the prevention measures of the cholera disease in communities.
These activities are being rolled out in all seven constituencies of the District, with priority given to the hotspots such as Matero, Kanyama, Munali and Mandevu.
The Council has further banned the sale of merchandise and foodstuffs from undesignated places in the city in accordance with Statutory Instrument No. 12 of 2018, which prohibits the sale of any item or produce in any street or public place, other than a market established by the local authority, except with the permission of the council.
Lusaka Mayor Chilando Chitangala also made a directive to bury all shallow wells across the city as an emergency Cholera response.
She explained that shallow wells are a major source of contamination and pose a serious health risk to the residents.
In that regard, the Mayor directed all ward councillors to work with the Council, community leaders and health workers in the identification of active shallow wells in their respective wards to ensure they are buried as soon as possible.
She added that the council was working with various stakeholders such as the Ministry of Health and the Lusaka Water Supply and Sanitation Company to address the water and sanitation issue in Lusaka.
Acting LCC Town Clerk Liftery Ndaba also revealed that the Council has released Constituency Development Fund vehicles to be used in the epicentres to respond to cholera cases.
He also called on all cooperating partners to come on board and donate items such as chlorine, disinfectants, gloves, soap and other essentials to help in the fight against cholera.
Further, another interventional measure involves placing skip bins around strategic points within the City. These bins will facilitate the smooth collection and containment of garbage pending transportation and final disposal.
The council has also deployed four trucks to collect heaps of garbage that have accumulated in the Central Business District and other areas.
The council is working in partnership with the Zambia National Service, which will soon dispatch more trucks to the most garbage-affected areas to expedite waste collection, transportation and disposal.
And Vice President Mutale Nalumango has called on citizens, who are the key players in the fight against cholera, to practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of the disease.
Indeed, the public needs to be vigorously engaged through health promotion activities to sensitize them on personal and collective measures to avoid contracting cholera and to seek treatment early when infected.
Also, there is an urgent need to thoroughly define this epidemic, map the epicentres and potential hotspots, and identify factors fueling the epidemic to stop the scourge before more lives are lost.