Save the Children-UK (SC-UK) has warned that although a cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe's Zambezi Valley appears to have abated, the rainy season could lead to a resurgence of the disease nationwide.
"One of the main lessons that we learnt from the cholera outbreak in November and December, that affected about 900 people and left nearly 40 dead, was that we were all unprepared. If cholera was to appear in another part of the country tomorrow, I am not sure that collectively we would be able to respond as effectively and promptly as we should," SC-UK country programme director, Chris McIvor, said in a statement.
SC-UK, which runs humanitarian programmes in the Zambezi Valley, said assessments carried out in the area indicated that poverty and very low water and sanitation coverage were major contributing factors, especially in the worst-affected wards of Mola and Marembera.
Research suggests there are only 11 latrines for a population of 10,000 people, which translates roughly into 1,000 people per toilet. In both wards the availability of clean water and access to it was also critical, with many wells having collapsed years ago and the only two boreholes providing water unable to meet the needs of the communities.
"We have had diarrhoea and dysentery before, but not cholera. We knew it could happen because there are no toilets here – people use the bush as a toilet," the SC-UK statement quoted Misheck Madoro of Marembera village in Nyaminyami as saying. "We have a serious water problem. People get their water from springs, hand-dug wells or rivers – there are very few boreholes."
As a result of the rainy season, the concern is that more cholera cases will emerge.
"It is clear that the overall downward trend in delivery of public health services, coupled with a lack of sanitation and poor coverage of safe potable water in some rural areas, contributes to a risk that cholera will occur again," said McIvor. "We are also worried that people in these communities are very mobile, and there is a high risk that cholera can spread from one ward to another."
The UK's Department for International Development has provided SC-UK with extra funding for its programme supporting cholera-affected people and local health structures. It will enable SC-UK to maintain a stock of emergency cholera supplies to help deal with further cholera outbreaks, as well as provide training and support to local NGOs and government departments in cholera prevention and control.