Tinomuda Chakanyuka, Senior Reporter
SEVENTEEN people, among them three children under the age of five, died of common diarrhoea countrywide in the last week of January bringing the total number of people who succumbed to the disease to 52 in just one month, latest statistics from the Ministry of Health and Child Care have revealed.
The three children are suspected to have died of rotavirus, a proxy of diarrhoea. Rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrhoea among children under the age of five years and is prevalent during the winter season.
According to data from the Ministry of Health and Child Care, a total of 39 766 cases of diarrhoea were recorded in January alone, with Manicaland and Mashonaland Central provinces recording the highest number of cases.
A total of 10 807 cases of the disease were recorded during the week ending 29 January this year with Manicaland Province recording 1 852 cases while Mashonaland Central had 1 744. Midlands recorded the highest number of deaths, (11) in the week under review followed by Harare which recorded five deaths at Chitungwiza Central Hospital while one person died in Matabeleland North to bring to 17 the number of deaths.
About 47 percent of the common diarrhoea cases recorded nationwide were children under the age of five.
Ministry of Health and Child Care director of epidemiology and disease control Dr Portia Manangazira attributed the high number of diarrhoea cases to the prevailing wet conditions.
“We see a rising trend of common diarrhoea cases. You will remember the El Nino phenomenon last year associated with drought and therefore water starvation, that leads to high levels of diarrhoea among children, and even infirm adults. Now we crossed over into La Nina with extreme wet conditions, mixing and contamination of waters,” she said.
Dr Manangazira said the recent typhoid outbreaks, largely recorded in Harare, were preceded by surges in diarrhoea cases.
During the last week of January, a total of 437 new suspected typhoid cases and one death were reported countrywide. The death was recorded in Harare. Dr Manangazira urged people to observe cleanliness.
“We therefore continue to urge strict observance of personal, family and community hygiene, especially hand washing at all critical times, eating food while still hot, and treating all drinking water at the point of use regardless of its source (borehole, tap, harvested rain water). This includes water used to wash fruits, salads or any other eaten raw,” she said.
Added Dr Manangazira:
“During this time following the national clean-up campaign, we encourage all citizens to contribute to reporting all burst water and sewerage pipes and following up to ensure they are reported timeously to the responsible authorities”.
The Ministry of Health and Child Care has been on record attributing the high number of common diarrhoea cases recorded in the country to lack of proper sanitation in most communities around the country.
The latest national census report shows that 24 percent of the country’s population practiced open air defecation due to lack of toilet facilities, while 25 percent of the country’s population relied on unprotected water sources.
In 2013, diarrhoea accounted for about 70 percent of deaths among infants nationwide.
In 2009, the World Health Organisation estimated that rotavirus vaccination would help reduce child deaths by about 45 percent.
A devastating cholera outbreak hit the country in 2008, accounting for about 4 000 deaths.
Zimbabwe has also been battling sporadic outbreaks of several water-borne diseases, such as typhoid, particularly due to dilapidated waste management infrastructure and reduced running water in urban centres.