11 January 2018

Zambia: Cholera Outbreak Ignites Wave of Change

CHOLERA has brought about a tide of change as people battle to contain its outbreak.

The on-going cholera epidemic, which broke out in the last months of 2017, has taken no less than 51 live, two of which are from the Central Province of the country.

People now seem to be realising the real danger of the cholera outbreak especially in Lusaka and Kabwe districts.

Since the outbreak, cholera has managed to bring most businesses to a standstill, and travelling is also becoming increasingly under scrutiny as people and members of the public are now thinking twice about making movements.

Schools, which should have been preparing to open for the first term, have remained closed indefinitely, with Government announcing that the situation would be reviewed at the monthend.

Street vendors cannot sell from their stands which have since been demolished as authorities race to remove every suspected source of cholera contamination.

The defence forces, who were assigned to help combat the problems of army worms, have instead been asked to help clear vendors off the streets and clean major towns like Lusaka and Kitwe, removing all garbage and unblocking drainage systems.

Government ministries like health, Government departments and local authorities are now focused solely on either supplying chlorine or on sending sensitisation messages.

Churches have also been forced to abandon their traditional programmes and handshakes.

Others, like the Lusaka Central Seventh Day Adventist Church, have gone to the extent of suspending church services until further notice.

As of Friday, January 5, 2018, 2,148 cholera cases had been recorded with 51 deaths.

What are the facts about cholera?

Experts say that cholera can be identified when one has a lot of watery diarrhoea and vomiting.

The patient passes watery stool which has a rice-water appearance.

The diarrhoea has the potential to become fatal as a result of dehydration within hours if not treated.

The cholera germ is said to hide in faecal matter passed by an infected person and can be transferred to another to an individual either directly or through liquids and foods.

But one who has not yet been affected can avoid cholera by drinking clean and safe water, eating safe food and using a clean toilet.

Those with diarrhoea are advised to rush to health institutions where health workers will attend to them before it is too late.

Kabwe, being at the centre of the country, is a transit town where many north and south bound travelers coming from other countries as well as from within Zambia.

This makes it imperative to review some of the challenges faced since the outbreak.

Sooner after Lusaka experienced an outbreak, Kabwe District also had one case of cholera recorded in Katondo Township.

Since then, more cases have been recorded in the area while one case was imported from Chisamba District, taking the number of those affected to seven by January 1, 2018.

Kabwe Municipal Council (KMC) public health team as well as the Kabwe District Medical team and the Lukanga Water and Sewerage Company (LgWSC) were mobilised to respond to the outbreak.

On January 2, 2018, the Kabwe District Cholera Epidemic Preparedness Meeting chaired by Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) resolved to put to an end the selling of foodstaffs in the Central

Business District (CBD).

However, before the implementation of the resolution on January 3, 2018, Kabwe Mayor Prince Chileshe banned all street vending.

He urged street vendors to prepare to leave to the markets.

On January 4, 2018, another meeting was convened at the provincial administration where Mr Chileshe, Central Province Minister Sydney Mushanga, who is also Bwacha Member of Parliament (MP), and his counterpart for Kabwe Central, Tutwa Ngulube, put heads together on how they would prevent cholera spreading further.

While the meeting was ongoing, the vendors gathered some distance from where the defence forces and the police service were dismantling their stands.

Shortly after the meeting, the vendors rushed to Mr Ngulube as he toured the CBD.

They chanted, "We want change! We want change!" as they displayed the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) symbol with their hands.

Mr Ngulube spent some time trying to calm down the vendors, some of whom were shedding tears over the loss of their stands.

Richard Malupande, a vendor who used to sell from Vwalika bus station, commended Government for the cleanup exercise which he described as good because it was meant to help curb the further spread of cholera.

Mr Malupande called on his fellow vendors and shop owners to support the cleaning campaign.

But Lucy Mulenga, who had been in the vending business since 2002, accused some office bearers of being heavy handed.

Ms Mulenga said removing the vendors from the streets was equivalent to killing their vision.

In addressing the aggrieved vendors, Mr Ngulube said there was need for the vendors to remain calm until a tangible solution was found.

He noted that the local authority had acted swiftly to evict the vendors before preparing them psychologically.

"For now, the biggest thing we want to do is to stop cholera. However, in dealing with cholera, we do not have to kill business," Mr Ngulube said.

He said there was no need for the vendors to display opposition party symbols and call for change of Government.

He said it was unfortunate that the vendors had been evicted without prior notice.

He said it was cardinal that relevant authorities always communicate before acting.

Speaking later at a press briefing, Mr Ngulube denied having influenced the vendors to leave the provincial minister and the mayor and opt to follow him.

"The vendors know who is with them so following me was not what I wanted but they know that I am always fighting for their betterment," he said.

Mr Mushanga told the media that the vendors who had shifted from the streets to operate from the market had been ridiculed and discriminated against by traders they found at the market.

He said it was sad that despite having more than enough space in Kabwe's 22 markets, those leaving the streets were being turned away.

By Friday 5, 2018, the number of cholera cases recorded in Central Province had risen from seven to 20, with two deaths.

LgWSC has provided a vacuum tanker to urgently help in dealing with sewer blockages and spillages.

LgWSC Deputy Spokesperson Louis Mwape said that the provision of the vacuum tanker is aimed at protecting the community from any hazard capable of escalating the cholera epidemic.

Mr Mwape said being a leading urban and peri-urban and sanitation provider in the region, LgWSC would ensure that sanitary conditions were provided to the public.

"In view of the outbreak, firstly the water utility is ready to dispatch the 7,000 litre water bowser in conjunction with the Cholera Epidemic Task Force Committee to cholera prone areas such as Katondo and Makululu townships with the aim of increasing access to clean and safe water in the midst of the outbreak.

"I also want to mention that the Quality Assurance Team has continued to conduct tests on water samples across the province to ensure constant monitoring of the water quality in line with world standards," Mr Mwape said.

As the local authority intensified inspections, more businesses were closed in Kabwe.

KMC public relations officer Kabaenda Makwele said since the outbreak of cholera in the district, over 55 business entities had been shut down for operating in unsanitary conditions.

Ms Makwele said businesses closed included 34 bars and 10 restaurants in Katondo Township, nine restaurants and three public toilets in the CBD.

She warned that more business houses risked closure should they be found operating in unhealthy conditions.

"Yes, I want to confirm that the 34 bars were surely closed in Katondo Township together with 10 restaurants and in the Central Business District. We closed down nine restaurants and three public toilets between November 29, 2017, to date," she said.

Ms Makwele said the local authority was working tirelessly to ensure cholera was eliminated.

She said the council was carrying out the clean up exercise and the inspection of public premises across Kabwe.

The cholera outbreak has indeed left many people affected in one way or the other.

This should be a wakeup call to policy makers to prepare for such possibilities.

The Ministry of Health, just like the Ministry of Agriculture which had to prepare for the farm inputs and the fight against army worms on time, has to prepare how to deal with disease outbreaks especially prior to the rainy season.

Since the cholera epidemic has affected certain parts of the country, politicians should follow what everybody else is doing by uniting and sharing ideas on how to protect people's lives rather than point fingers against each other.

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