Date Published: 15 December 2008

Cholera epidemic takes its toll on Zimbabwe's children

Sarah Masarakufa (35) is in mourning. Her two year old daughter Shumirai died two months ago and she is still stricken with grief. However, as we visit her home, she does not want to show her pain. She remains steadfast, gentle and warm and says she is doing her best to hold herself together for the sake of her two remaining sons.

?She was my only daughter and she was beautiful,?says Sarah as she shows us some photographs taken of Shumirai at her first birthday party. ?I know I did all I could to try and save her life, but she died.?

Sarah's daughter succumbed to cholera, a disease which has claimed close to 200 lives in Budiriro, a suburb of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, over the last three months. Medical authorities have recorded Shumirai as one of the earliest causalities of the water borne disease in the high-density suburb.

In relating the events leading to her daughter's death, Sarah recalls the week of pain and suffering that Shumirai went through. She tells of how her daughter vomited and had an uncontrollable running stomach. The prescribed diarrhea suspension solution, antibiotic and pain killer did not help her. Sarah watched as each day her baby grew weaker: her eyes sunk in and she threw up anything she ate. Shumirai succumbed to cholera before her mother had exhausted all the treatment options available to her.

?I think I did all that I could to try and save her,” Sarah continues. ?I went to a private doctor at clinic and she died in hospital. I was not sure what was happening with my daughter and I wish I knew.?

Since August this year, 783 people from nine of the 10 provinces of Zimbabwe have died from cholera. With a fatality rate of nearly 5 per cent, the outbreak has far surpassed the international acceptable threshold of 1%. Budiriro has recorded by far the most cases.

Cholera is usually a treatable disease but in Zimbabwe it has spread faster than expected because of the run down state of health delivery services, the failure to provide clean water and the failure of waste disposal and management ? all necessary for the prevention and treatment of the disease.

Sarah says that, until recently, people living in Budiriro had gone for over two months without any water from their taps. In order to get water, they dug a shallow well near their home. Sarah had believed this water source to be safe but health promotion officers say the wells dug in this area are often too close to the underground sewers, making the water unsafe.

UNICEF Zimbabwe has moved swiftly to minimise the loss of life due to cholera. Through the trucking of safe water, the provision of water treatment tablets and oral rehydration salts and the facilitation of cholera treatment centres, cholera deaths have temporarily been reduced. Efforts at responding to the outbreak have not been confined to direct treatment of the disease: UNICEF has also embarked on efforts to rid the capital city of refuse which has been piling up as a result of the city council's failure to collect and dispose of it.

?Treatment alone is not sufficient if people then return to their homes, which are surrounded by unmanaged waste,”says Roeland Monasch, head of UNICEF Zimbabwe. ?We know these dumpsters create the perfect breeding ground for cholera and it is necessary to get rid of them.?

Measures have been put in place to slow down the spread of cholera in Zimbabwe but a lot more needs to be done on the ground to ensure the full protection of women and children. For mothers like Sarah, a lot still has to be done to raise awareness of how to provide a clean and safe environment for her children, even when essential systems have failed.


Source: UNICEF Main Website.
See also UNICEF Online Gift Shop

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