accessibility & help

Zimbabwe rainy season increases cholera crisis

15 January 2009

Child receiving treatment through a dripJason Tanner/ICRCWith the onset of the rainy season, thousands more people in Zimbabwe and the surrounding region are at risk from cholera. Flooding could also seriously exacerbate the rate of infection, increasing the risk of sewage contaminating water sources.The country's ten provinces have reported that cholera has claimed 2,201 lives and the total number of cases is nearly 42,000 (as of 13 January). People are continuing to die and more help is urgently needed.

“The cholera crisis in Zimbabwe is far from over. The rainy season is now here and we know from experience that rains are an aggravating factor for cholera. Continued efforts are needed to make sure the disease is contained,” said Di Moody, British Red Cross programme manager for Southern Africa.

Red Cross response

The British Red Cross emergency response unit (ERU), specialising in sanitation, is working with the Zimbabwean Red Cross and the Ministry of Health in the Midlands region of Zimbabwe to prevent and contain cholera. GlaxoSmithKline has made a donation of £245,000 to support the deployment team and their specialist equipment.

With 46 per cent of deaths occurring en route to medical centres, the Red Cross has established vital mobile units able to travel direct to locations of cholera outbreaks, to rapidly contain and treat the condition and prevent the spread of infection.

These mobile units are making a difference to people like Soyata Alisa, 23, and her one-year-old son, Marshall Zulu, who are now receiving treatment after arriving at the Zvishavane cholera treatment centre on 11 January, the day it opened. The British and Norwegian Red Cross ERU teams set up the centre in Zvishavane – erecting tents, digging drains, building latrines and providing medical supplies – after a new outbreak over the weekend. The centre filled its ten beds on the first day and patients are arriving continuously. As a result, the Red Cross has built an additional tent with a further 20 beds.

Jean Gilardi, British Red Cross health and hygiene delegate, said: “Everyone is worried about the rains which cause massive increases in the number of cholera cases. One of the biggest problems for people is making their way long distances to get treatment. With the mobile units we can reach many people unable to get help elsewhere.

“We’ve also been training Zimbabwe Red Cross volunteers, who are now going village to village, house to house and raising awareness of the hygiene issues around cholera and how it can be prevented.”

Making a difference

The mobile teams are equipped to meet the sanitation needs of up to 20,000 people, through the construction of latrines and promotion of hygiene. The British ERU is one of seven teams from around the world, which has been deployed to Zimbabwe by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, working in conjunction with the Zimbabwean Red Cross which has been responding to the cholera outbreak since it began.

Jean said: “It costs less than £1 a day to equip a family of five with the goods they need to give them clean water and protect them from cholera. One family hygiene kit costs only £30 and lasts for one month. With your money we can help protect thousands from the misery of cholera.”

The British Red Cross launched the Zimbabwe & Region Appeal on 11 December 2008, to help thousands of people affected by both cholera and chronic food shortages. More funds are desperately needed.

More about the Zimbabwe & Region Appeal