Zambia imposes tough measures as cholera outbreak spreads

Zambia imposes tough measures as cholera outbreak spreads

Zambia—Zambia has postponed the start of the school year by three weeks, replicating measures implemented in January 2018 as cholera mortality in the southern African country rises.

According to the Health Ministry, 222 individuals have died from cholera in Zambia, bringing the overall number of cases to 5,462.

Health ministry statistics show that this waterborne disease has spread to the seventh province since the its recent in October 2023.

School reopenings have been halted until at least January 29 as part of efforts to manage the outbreak, which has infected 3,757 individuals and killed 128 people since October.

While the government had previously announced that the start of the new academic year would be delayed until January 29, the Ministry of Science and Technology has also announced that the resumption of technical vocational education and training (TVET) institutions would be delayed by a fortnight, also until January 29.

While making this decision, Education Minister Douglas Syakalima expressed worry about the harmful impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on the education sector in the past, emphasizing that protecting the lives of school communities from cholera remains a top priority.

Over the previous two years, cholera epidemics have afflicted 16 African countries as severe storms and wars have hastened the spread of infections.

 Meanwhile, the South African health authority has increased screening services and civic education on the disease at land border crossings.

This new step comes after the World Health Organization recommended for increased surveillance to prevent and minimize cross-border spread late last year.

The department has urged  all travellers returning from cholera-endemic areas, including Zimbabwe, to be vigilant of cholera symptoms, cooperate with health officials, and be transparent.

Additionally, all suspected cholera patients will be referred to the nearest health facilities for testing, according to the statement.

Cholera which causes severe dehydration from vomiting and diarrhoea, can kill within hours if left untreated

 As the situation worsens, citizens have been discouraged from traveling between towns, holding  public gatherings  and school openings remain postponed.

Recently, President Haikande Hichilema was obliged to cut short his traditional festive season break in order to provide more direct and frontline leadership in the fight against the outbreak.

Over the weekend, Minister of Health Silvia Masebo discouraged inter-city travel while speaking to the media at the Heroes Stadium in the capital, which is now being used as a treatment centre.

 This sports complex has been converted into a cholera treatment center as a last-ditch effort to relieve congestion at health-care institutions as the number of cases increases.

Masebo has also instructed the deployment of more nurses and support people to the makeshift center, with local health authorities giving chlorine to clean household water in severely afflicted areas and urging the population to maintain rigorous hygiene measures.

The Zambia Police Service (ZPS) has also encouraged citizens to desist from organizing or participating in public processions “until further notice.”

Our residents’ health and safety are of the utmost importance. “We must take collective action to stop the spread of cholera,” said Rae Hamonga, a police Public Relations Officer.

Public gatherings, particularly processions, represent a considerable danger of aggravating illness transmission.

This is not the first cholera outbreak; similar outbreaks happened in 2003-04, 2005-06, and 2017-18 seasons, with several factors linked to Zambia’s epidemics occurring during the rainy season.

 Cholera is classified by the World Health Organization as a poverty-related disease that affects those who do not have access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

Conflict, unplanned urbanization, and climate change all increase the risk of cholera outbreaks. 

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