Govt considers cholera vaccine as death toll rises

A health professional attends to a cholera treatment centre in Harare, where more than 20 people have died in the latest outbreak

ZIMBABWE’S government is considering oral cholera vaccines as the death toll bacterial diarrhoeal disease continues to rise, reaching 24 deaths by Wednesday, according to the World Health Organisation.

The country is experiencing its third major cholera episode since 1998, with the 2008 crisis, which left more than 4,200 people dead, being the worst to date.

The current outbreak, whose epicentre is Glen View in Harare, broke out on September 1, with a reported 24 deaths from 58 confirmed cases and about 2,000 suspected ones, the WHO said on Thursday.

Government this week declared a cholera emergency in Harare and said it was pulling resources to fight the disease.

The WHO announced it was scaling up its response to the outbreak in support of government efforts, by mobilising national and international health experts to form a cholera surge team’.

WHO experts are helping to track down cases, providing technical support to laboratories and improving diagnostics and strengthening infection and prevention control in communities and health facilities.  

“In addition to such measures and efforts to improve water and sanitation, the government is assessing the benefits of conducting an oral cholera vaccine (OCV) campaign and WHO is deploying an expert in OCV campaigns to Harare,” the UN agency said.

In 2013, WHO established the Global Oral Cholera Vaccine (OCV) stockpile and received long term support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, for use of the vaccine to combat cholera.

By May 2018, over 25 million doses had been administered through mass vaccination campaigns in 19 countries since the creation of the stockpile five years ago.

Although the vaccine has proved to be effective, experts encourage governments to address the underlying causes of cholera outbreaks – poor water and sanitation conditions due to inadequate and broken infrastructure.

Harare’s water and sanitation infrastructure suffers from years of underfunding and neglect, with the city’s water system – initially designed for 350,000 people – now overburdened by 4.5 million residents in the capital and surrounding satellite towns.

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