Zimbabwe: Fix Systems, Not Symptoms - Lobby Group Urges Harare

29 October 2017

The Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) has shot down the idea of introducing a typhoid vaccine, calling on government to address the country's endemic water and sanitation challenges.

At least 21 people have tested positive to typhoid in Harare's Mbare high density suburb during the past week.

Such waterborne diseases outbreaks have become a permanent feature on the country's calendar since 2008 when cholera claimed over 4,000 lives.

Harare City Health director, Prosper Chonzi, last week told journalists that there are plans to launch a vaccine soon to alleviate the problem.

However, CWGH executive director Itai Rusike said a vaccine would be an unsustainable and expensive solution to the typhoid problem.

"CWGH believes that the typhoid vaccination should only complement service provision and should not be taken as the main intervention strategy in the fight against the outbreak," Rusike said last Thursday.

"It does not make sense to treat people for preventable diseases and send them back to the conditions that made them ill.

"It also should be noted that vaccines do not come cheap; raising serious questions about the sustainability of that approach as the major weapon to fight the disease given the current limited national resources Zimbabwe has."

The latest outbreak comes a few days after President Robert Mugabe had been appointed World Health Organisation goodwill ambassador for non-communicable diseases for what the global health agency called "his good policies on NCDs and universal health coverage". The role was revoked after a global outcry.

Rusike said the outbreaks are concentrated in Harare and continue unabated for nearly a decade as a result of bad governance.

"Why is it that the outbreaks always occur or start in Harare and not in Bulawayo, Masvingo or Gweru? It should be noted that Bulawayo faces more water challenges than Harare but there have not been serious cases of either typhoid or cholera in that city for years," he said.

"Since the cholera outbreak of 2008/9 that killed over 4 500 people, the country's cities are still dogged by poor sanitation, erratic potable water supplies of questionable quality meaning that as a country, we learnt nothing from that crisis.

"The majority of the deaths were recorded in Harare, ironically a city vying for World Class City status by 2025."

The urgent finalisation of the Public Health Act Amendment Bill, improvements in public health education as well as fixing water and waste management systems are among the issues that need to be attended to with urgency, according to the community organisation.

Section 77 of the 2013 Constitution guarantees the right to safe, clean and portable water but the State has failed to take legislative measures to secure these rights.

Harare residents have reported drinking contaminated water from shallow, unprotected wells and defecating outdoors, violating their right to water and sanitation and raising the risk of typhoid.

Cases of waterborne diseases even increase with the onset of the rainy season.

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