Cylone Idai aftermath: health scare looms

A few weeks ago, Chenjerai Dambura considered himself ‘wealthy’ boasting  of a herd of 20 cattle, 30 goats and many chickens, the highly lucrative ‘road runners’ famous for their quality organic meat.  Sadly, the budding farmer lost his wealth to Cyclone Idai which destroyed communities in Chimanimani, Chipinge and other areas.  However, with more than 1 000 people having died in Zimbabwe and Mozambique from the deadly cyclone ,Dambura is grateful to be alive.  While his livestock project was critical to his survival for now Dambura’s priority is regaining his health. While he was fortunate enough to survive the devastating cyclone, he was left with wounds that are still healing and the fear of contracting waterborne diseases such as cholera.  Cyclone Idai destroyed water and sewer reticulation systems leaving communities vulnerable to water borne diseases.  “I have lost everything but as long as I can regain my strength and health I can work to restore my wealth,” said Dambura.  “What I am worried about now is the health situation around these areas due to lack of adequate and clean water.”    Dambura shares the same fate with many other displaced villagers from Chikukwa in Chimanimani district, who have taken shelter at Chimanimani Hotel.  But it is not all gloom and doom for the villagers trying to rebuild their lives.   Government has gone all out to ensure that normalcy or some semblance of it is restored within the shortest possible period. The Ministry of Health and Child Care, in partnership with developmental and humanitarian agencies  such as Gavi, UNICEF , MSF, World Health Organisation and others have kept Dambura and others’ hope of full health restoration alive.  Felistas Chengu, a nurse at Chikukwa Clinic, said the health institution, with the assistance of Government through the Ministry of Health and partners is working round the clock to prevent the outbreak of diseases such as cholera.  “We are grateful to our partners who are making it possible for us to continue working under these difficult conditions by unveiling the necessary resources to contain various diseases,” she said. Cellina Zomba, a mother of three, expressed gratitude for support extended thus far but said more still needed to be done especially as it appeared there would be an early winter season. “Government can expedite the rebuilding process as the conditions in the camp are not conducive especially for children. The nights are really chilly and we are afraid that children will suffer from pneumonia if we continue for long in the camps.”   “For now we have no option but to stay here and we hope conditions will improve so that we are not hit by another disaster health wise.”  To improve conditions in the various camps that have been set up to offer relief, health workers are visiting camps teaching residents on issues  such as hygienic and safer ways of preparing food in the not-so-ideal conditions.  A cholera vaccination programme being rolled out by the Ministry of Health and Child Care with technical support from World Health Organization, (WHO), Unicef, MSF and other partners has brought great relief to villagers.   The oral cholera vaccination programme has since being rolled out in the hard-hit areas of Chimanimani and Chipinge.  “Cholera has been our greatest fear since day one of this tragedy and we are happy that Government has been able to mobilize support from its partners to ensure we will not be affected by his scourge,” said Zomba.  “I don’t want to go through the trauma of being infected with cholera, so I am very happy with this vaccination programme,” she said.  Organisations offering support said they will continue assisting where they are needed.   “This cyclone has caused enough devastation and misery across south east Africa, we have to hope these vaccines will help stop potentially major outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and prevent yet more suffering,” said Abi Kebra Belaye Oral Cholera Vaccine focal for WHO.  She added: “Hundreds of people are living in temporary settlements some without access to safe drinking water and sanitation, putting them at serious risk of cholera and other diseases.”  District Medical Officer for Chimanimani District Dr Edwin Choga said: “Government was working round the clock to ensure good health for everyone.  “A second round of vaccine will be administered to each and every individual at risk for stronger protection.”  Meanwhile, the Ministry of health in partnership with WHO have put  in place an early warning, alert and response system to enhance disease surveillance and outbreak detection. WHO Country Representative Dr Alex Gasasira said: “Progress is being made everyday but the cyclone crisis cannot be handled by one organization. We need to work with everyone in coordinated efforts in order to lessen the pain of those who are still in need.”