Outcry over typhoid deaths

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HARARE – Zimbabwean doctors yesterday called on the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) to ensure government accounts for every death as a result of archaic diseases amid unprecedented public outrage over typhoid deaths.

Zimbabwe’s government was facing scrutiny from the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) after noting the continued deplorable state of service delivery in Zimbabwe’s cities, towns and Harare in particular, saying the local authorities’ suburbs have become the epitome of failure to prioritise a safe and clean environment as a key tenet of a strong primary healthcare system.

“…we call upon the ZHRC to institute an investigation into the continued outbreaks of these archaic diseases which are preventable and proffer recommendations to both the councils and the government,” ZADHR secretary Evans Masitara told an interface meeting yesterday with the State-run ZHRC, represented by its chairperson, commissioner Elasto Mugwadi.

“We believe these continued outbreaks are a health rights violation and smack of negligence and incompetency on the part of the duty bearers.”

This comes as two children are reported to have lost their lives with total suspected cases of 604, and the outbreak spreading beyond Mbare — the disease’s epicentre — to adjacent suburbs such as Budiriro and Glen View, where many have been sickened by contaminated water and food.

“Residents are daily subjected to unsafe drinking water, burst sewer pipes and uncollected garbage.

“These conditions are conducive for the outbreak of communicable diseases and not only typhoid,” Masitara said.

Another risk is cholera, a bacterial disease that tends to break out amid intense rains in parts of Harare.

“As we all recall, Zimbabwe was attacked by a cholera outbreak in 2008 which saw deaths and over 99 000 reported cases,” Masitara said.

A cholera outbreak that started in August 2008 killed over 4 000 people and left nearly 100 000 ill. The epidemic was officially declared over in July 2009.

2010/11 also had sporadic outbreaks of typhoid in Harare.

“The conditions that favour the outbreaks are the same and this calls us to ask, have we seen nothing and have we heard nothing?” Masitara said.

Typhoid — a bacterial disease spread through poor food hygiene and contaminated water — occasionally breaks out in Zimbabwe’s poorer townships, where water supplies are still basic more than three decades after independence.

Untreated, the disease can lead to complications in the gut and head which can kill up to one in five patients.

Masitara told the ZHRC that NGOs — under the Civil Society Health Emergency Response Coordinating Committee (CSHERCC) — had called for the setup of a commission of inquiry that looks into curbing preventable diseases.

Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) executive director, Itai Rusike, said that as long as the water crisis in Harare was not addressed, residents will continue to be exposed to diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

“The causes of the 2008 outbreak have not been addressed and the main reason for the typhoid outbreak is the unavailability of water. People are resorting to alternative sources of water which are not safe,” Rusike said.

Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) chief executive, Mfundo Mlilo, blamed erratic water supplies and poor waste management for the typhoid outbreak.

“..we are concerned about this and one of our resolutions is to engage State actors so that we find a lasting solution.”

“We believe the ZHRC has a role to play in holding the Harare City Council as well as other local authorities to account,” Mlilo said.

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