At the height of the cholera outbreak in 2008 frantic efforts were made to source and distribute water treatment drugs (Aquatabs), as the nation fought to contain the epidemic. It has since been established that some people were busy putting the donated life-saving drug to improper use as a laundry stain remover – a practice that is still prevalent today.
Petros Nyakawo (35) of Mabvuku admitted that he abused and is still wrongly using this important drug. “I drop two tablets in 20 litres of water, wait for it to dissolve and then soak clothes with tough stains for a few minutes. It removes stains with ease just like Jik,” he said. He added that the practice has become an ‘open secret’ since 2008. Nyakawo believes that it started when “People were urged not to consume treated water after 24 hours, but to use it for other purposes. So I think the water was used for washing clothes, and people discovered the hidden benefit,” he said.
“I learnt of this development when I visited my rural home in Mutoko. My mother told me about it, after she saw me struggling with my little daughter’s nappies. I tried it, and it worked well for me,” boasted Enia Nhidza adding that people used to share the drug, but since the discovery, they have become reluctant to share it with neighbours.
Meanwhile, Dr Stanley Mungofa, City of Harare Director of Health Services, said the tablets have identical properties and action to sodium hypochlorite found in Jik, adding that using them as a stain remover is not advisable. “People should use the tablets as prescribed, to purify drinking water,” he said. Mungofa said the treated water should be consumed within a period of 24 hours, otherwise the chemicals may evaporate, rendering the water unsafe to drink and urged people to also boil water before consumption. He also emphasised the need to educate people about the importance of purifying water to prevent water borne diseases, and criticised people who used vital drugs incorrectly.
Aquatabs and Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) are administered to cholera patients to replace lost water in the body through dehydration from severe diarrhoea. They were distributed country-wide by donor organisations such as UNICEF, at the height of the pandemic in 2008. Currently Aquatabs are accessible from council clinics, and people are given the tablets for free to treat their drinking water.
The media has lately been reporting cases of cholera and typhoid related diseases in and around the city, while our water supply systems are unable to cope with the city’s needs. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the outbreak, which is one of the worst ever in the Zimbabwean history, claimed thousands of lives in 2008 countrywide.