No handshakes at funerals as cholera spreads in Zimbabwe

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Zimbabwe has put screening mechanisms in place at the country’s borders with Zambia‚ Mozambique‚ Botswana and South Africa in an attempt to contain a cholera outbreak.

Health and Child Care Minister Dr David Parirenyatwa said a National Response Team had put temporary holding camps in strategic areas‚ particularly on Zimbabwe’s borders with Zambia‚ where 3‚000 cases and more than 70 deaths have been reported. More than 155 cases have been reported in Mozambique.

“Multi-sectorial teams have been activated at border posts and they work round the clock‚” he said.

A record 8‚500 cholera cases were recorded within a week in 2008 as Zimbabwe declared the country’s worst outbreak in history a national disaster.

The outbreak spread to South Africa’s northern provinces of Mpumalanga and Limpopo‚ prompting the South African government to provide assistance on the Zimbabwean side of the border. Ten years later Zimbabwe is still vulnerable.

Pockets of typhoid and cholera-related infections were detected in Harare‚ where the government has recorded at least 2‚000 cases and four deaths‚ as of January 30.

Outside the metropolitan capital‚ an intriguing case is one of Laita Mungulisia‚ 80‚ whose death in Chegutu‚ triggered more deaths in the area. Had it not been for alert health workers‚ some villagers may have attributed the deaths to witchcraft.

Three of Mungulisia’s close relatives‚ who bathed her corpse‚ began vomiting and displaying diarrhoea symptoms soon after the burial. Two of them did not live to see the next day. At their funerals‚ the cycle of infections and deaths continued until the ministry of health intervened.

Afterwards‚ Chegutu General Hospital admitted 18 people – seven women and 11 men – but health officials warned that there could be more people in need of cholera treatment. “The infections could have spread far and wide so the nation should be alert‚” said Dr Portia Manangazira‚ the health ministry’s epidemiology and disease control director.

As part of the containment measures‚ the ministry of health and child welfare is monitoring people’s conduct during funeral wakes. Shaking hands‚ hugging or any close contact at public events is now strongly discouraged.

“People must avoid shaking hands at funerals. If you have to do it‚ please use a fist or elbow‚” said Parirenyatwa.

The World Health Organisation has chipped in with assistance. However‚ the organisation noted that Angola‚ Kenya‚ Malawi and Somalia had a similar crisis‚ largely attributed to government neglect and poor public sanitation‚ personal hygiene and waste management.