MARTIN NYIRENDA, our Times Features writer, recently visited some of the trading places in Ndola which are punctuated with heaps of garbage, clogged furrows impregnated with sometimes human waste and a mass of humanity operating in soiled surroundings. This is the striking account of what he saw and observed.
ACCORDING to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the first outbreak of cholera in Zambia was reported in 1977/1978, with other cases appearing in 1982/1983.
The first chief outbreak occurred in 1990 and lasted until 1993. Since then cholera cases were registered every year except in 1994 and 1995.
Generally most cases and deaths appeared in the rural areas and in the peri-urban areas of Lusaka and Copperbelt provinces where access to safe water and good sanitation is poor.
The ongoing cholera occurrence in Zambia corresponds to the progressive decline in the economy which started in the late 70's early 80's and still persists.
Several reports have been documented about a number of trading places in Ndola, including the infamous Masala market where the first case of Cholera outbreak was reported.
At Masala market, you find marketers displaying their merchandise -- including fast foods and highly potent alcohol -- in front of them as furrows filled with human waste meandering in their gloomy faces.
The biggest trading place in Ndola bubbles with overflowing human waste in public lavatories. Water supply remains erratic. With rains pouring, human waste filters into surrounding of trading places making the place the right candidate for cholera outbreak.
During rains, the ground is sloppy-muddy and it is difficult to access some parts of the market as merchandise is displayed in the open. On a dusty day, wind blows pullulated air on displayed consumables posing high risk of transmission of air borne infections.
Ndola City Council (NCC) has vowed to curb the spread of the outbreak to other parts of the district and, with good intentions too, the local authority has engaged in top gear to clean up trading places as more beer holes and eateries are now being shut down which have failed to conform to health standards as prescribed by law.
I only hope that it is not one of those usual high-minded pronouncements pledging to stop the spread of the cholera because, on another side of the debacle, there is absolutely no much room to hide that Ndola district stands on the verge of becoming a cholera infested sector if no measures are further instituted to combat cholera.
In its agenda, NCC has shut down more than 150 bars and eateries in the district. More other places have been targeted and the number expected to rise.
Ndola mayor Amon Chisenga informed this author while he, in the company of his lieutenants coupled with Patriotic Front supporters, was busy mopping up Masala market at the weekend that it was cardinal for communities to participate in the fight against cholera.
The closing up of trading places, which are breeding grounds for the spread of the outbreak, was a deliberate yet contingent stride to contain the spread of Cholera to other parts of the district.
Some traders at Masala market have welcomed the idea to close drinking places and eateries, arguing that the move was long overdue and did not need the council to move in after the outbreak.
Others to face the chop include all trading spots in the district operating without licenses, adding that the process will continue until further notice.
Mr Chisenga said the local authority would engage other cooperating partners to help fight the cholera outbreak through cleaning up of public places such as markets and other trading places as well as generating public awareness.
"We intend to be cleaning up all markets in Ndola to ensure that the spread of the cholera outbreak was contained. We are also closing down all drinking and eating places which do not have proper sanitary facilities.
"We are targeting other markets such as Twapia, Kabushi, Chifubu and Town centre, among others," said Mr Chisenga.
To undertake the task of cleaning up the markets in the district was not an undertaking affair because already the NCC was faced with its own challenges such as limited capacity to efficiently survive the communities.
"Imagine we only have two equipments from our engineering and health departments which we are using to clean up the markets which are not enough".
Ndola District Health director Gideon Zulu said that the clean up exercise at Masala market was in line with President Edgar Lungu's concern that the outbreak should be contained at all costs.
Dr Zulu disclosed that other places registering mass human traffic where foodstuffs and other consumables were being sold would also be targeted.
He said that concerted efforts were being directed towards stopping the cholera outbreak and that a coordinated programme has already been implemented and beefed up to generate public awareness among communities to serve lives.
"We are guided by the Statutory Instrument 79 of the Public Health Act to help the district prevent the spread of the outbreak to other areas.
"We are physically on the ground monitoring the situation and ensuring that the congested public places are kept clean to avoid the outbreak. As you can see, the council workers are on helping in cleaning the place to fight the spread of the outbreak," he said.
The Ndola health team, some PF cadres and NCC officials yesterday moved to Chifubu Township, removing heaps of garbage and unblocking clogged sewer and drainage lines.
The cadres expressed commitment to help the local authority during my visit at Masala market while the cleaning was being conducted.
In Chifubu constituency, area member of Parliament Frank N'gambi said steps have been taken to shut down bars and taverns that do not have toilets within.
Copperbelt province Permanent Secretary Bright Nundwe may have been forced to take a stance that is neither unpopular nor polite, but he has directed all district Commissioners in the province to ensure that epidemic preparedness and structures are well coordinated because his conscience tells him it is right.
Thus, Mr Nundwe urges the committees should ensure well-coordinated and stocked with adequate epidemic supplies to be able to mount a quick response should any case of cholera be detected in the province.
At the end of it all, the focus should be to ensure that the outbreak evaporates from the face of affected communities like dust in the wind, which should be squarely supported by coordinated preventive measures.
Perhaps it is time to forge a Marshal Plan to support the strategy to preventive future cholera outbreaks.
Karl Marx would have famously observed: "The technocrats have merely interpreted the problem of cholera, the point is to change it to ensure it does not resurface.
Mwewa Kamalondo, attests to the truism that cholera has brought with it negative effects on small-scale businesses as, for instance, most tomatoes and vegetables were going to waste because consumers where now shunning buying them for fear of cholera.
Morgan Kabwe, a trader at Chifubu market, bemoaned that despite the fact that in a progressive community, change to improve the health status should always be progressive as most traders were at loss in the wake of the outbreak.
At Chisokone market in the town centre, the story is rather the same as traders bemoan loss of business due to the outbreak because more consumers were shunning to purchase their produce, which was the cost to their income.
"People are shunning to buying my fresh maize, potatoes, onions and tomatoes as was the case before the outbreak of cholera. This has affected by income and, like many other traders at Kapalala market, we hope Government could move in to ensure our income flow was not affected because of the outbreak," bemoans Simon Kapampwe.
But one thing that stands out is the truism that the NCC has limited capacity to serve the communities. Like in the case of cholera exercise, the only had two equipments from its health and engineering departments to support the cleaning up of trading areas.
To paraphrase the first Earl of Beaconsfield who twice served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Benjamin Disraeli, protecting the lives of people from being infected and affected by cholera was not a principle, but an expedient -- which shows how much easier it is to be critical about the ravaging health issue.