Typhoid Outbreak Hits Harare
Zimbabwean health authorities have reported that Harare is under siege from the biggest typhoid outbreak in recent history which might sweep across the country with devastating effect.
At least 80 people have been hospitalised in Harare and reports indicate that if the disease is not contained, it could spread rapidly.
The director of the Harare City Council Health Department, Dr Prosper Chonzi told the Daily News yesterday the deadly infection has been traced back to food that is being sold by illegal vendors in Kuwadzana suburb, and frantic efforts were underway to combat the disease.
The latest typhoid outbreak comes amid another outbreak of a diarrhoeal infection caused by the “shigella bacteria”, a deadly mix that could prove to Typhoid outbreak hits Harare nbe a major test for the city health department, which had never before been faced with a typhoid outbreak on such a massive scale.
On the frontline of the battle to save lives and bring the disease under control is medical charity Medicines Sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders) which has moved to pitch tents at the Beatrice Infectious Diseases Hospital and in Kuwadzana to screen patients.
The Daily News heard that there was an emergency "partners meeting" on Wednesday last week to coordinate a response to the spiralling epidemic.
Following that meeting, according to Chonzi, food samples from Kuwadzana shopping were tested and came back positive of salmonella, an organism that causes typhoid.
"We have traced it back to illegal vendors especially those selling fish, chicken, beef and sadza," Chonzi said. "We took samples and they were all contaminated by salmonella. We even examined those who prepare the food.
“We must stop illegal vending. People must stop buying that food. Very soon it will be city-wide because the salmonella lives under finger nails. This is not good for the city," he said.
Typhoid, a water-borne infection, has been virtually endemic in Zimbabwe and this is just the latest outbreak, but at a much larger scale, health authorities warn.
This is the second outbreak of typhoid in as many months, with health authorities having diagnosed dozens of cases at Beatrice Infectious Disease Hospitals so far.
"This is serious," Chonzi told the Daily News. "It is concentrated in Kuwadzana and 80 people are in Nazareth (Beatrice Infectious Diseases Hospital) right now."
Typhoid causes vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhoea - it can kill the old, the young and those who are already weakened.
Although the city's water system is so out-of-date and antiquated that it has failed to adequately supply the whole city, Chonzi ruled out water contamination and said "in those areas, the city of Harare has tried."
"There is water in Kuwadzana and many areas around that area. There is no sewer flowing," he said.
"There is both taped and borehole water. People are boiling water and there is distribution of aqua tablets. The issue is now vending," he said.
A nurse at the Beatrice Infectious Diseases Hospital said she was on duty when the first victim was brought into the hospital, but had no idea at the time of the seriousness of the outbreak.
The city hospital was eventually overrun with typhoid patients, with the hospital opening up most of their beds to new typhoid admissions.
She said: "The authorities here were quite unprepared. They had no emergency plan to cope with an outbreak, nor any stocks of emergency medicine.
"They appealed to the MSF and I must say they have really helped but it is still a huge challenge."
The panic over the disease has been so great that very few outsiders are daring venture further West into Kuwadzana.
The Beatrice Infectious Diseases Hospital has been swamped with people, including false alarms as the city is thrown into panic.
The typhoid outbreak comes hard on the heels of the outbreak of shigella, a diarrhoea infection that also hit the Western suburbs especially Warren Park. The disease shows itself through a blood-stained stool, fever and stomach cramps and 36 cases of shigella were diagnosed last week.
Dysentery, cholera, diarrhoea, typhoid and a whole bouquet of diseases have been widespread in the capital: "We have been facing an epidemic of typhoid and this is the second time since last month. We don't know when this typhoid outbreak will stop," said Shorai Moyo, of Kuwadzana.
Zimbabwe’s public health system, which before the collapse of the last decade was one of the best in Africa, is on a firm path to recovery but still faces major hurdles.
Most of Zimbabwe’s public hospitals, which were forced to close their doors as they could no longer afford drugs, equipment or wages for their staff at the height of the economic crisis, began operating only months after the formation of a coalition government by President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Premier Arthur Mutambara in February 2009.
The power-sharing government promised to rebuild Zimbabwe’s economy and to restore basic services such as health and education that had virtually collapsed after a decade of economic meltdown blamed on Mugabe's previous government.
But the administration, which says it needs $10 billion to revive the economy, is struggling to deliver mainly because it has failed to unlock financial support from Western governments that have remained reluctant to provide aid until they see evidence that Mugabe is committed to genuinely share power with Tsvangirai.