Minster of Health Dr David Parirenyatwa was quoted by The Herald in October, warning that 60 cases of typhoid had appeared in Harare. City of Harare health director Dr Prosper Chonzi says that Harare’s health department has confirmed just two typhoid cases on 27 October in Mbare. Harare News also received medical reports from a patient who attended a private health facility in the Northern suburbs where he was diagnosed with the disease. He alleges that he and his son contracted it in Highlands, and that there were other people in the hospital with the disease at the time.
Chonzi advised Harare News that they do not consider this an outbreak and that they are successfully containing the isolated incidences. Moreover, he expressed doubt over the privately diagnosed cases which used the Widal Test – which only analyses for antibodies emitted to fight the typhoid bacteria, rather than testing forthe bacteria itself. Chonzi says that a definitive diagnosis can only be made using laboratory cultures of stool and blood samples.
In spite of this, Chonzi warned that the rainy season could easily see the disease returning if people are careless. Typhoid is transmitted when the Salmonella typhi bacteria is ingested, usually through contaminated water or food.
“The last serious outbreak was in January, when there were 1,189 cases reported in Glen View alone. 70 of those were confirmed with lab cultures. We declared the outbreak over in July after 42 days without any cases (two incubation periods). But as water becomes a problem, we are being cautious and are in a surveillance period and are still testing for the disease. People are resorting to drinking from shallow wells, and when water is short, sanitation becomes a problem,” said Chonzi.
City of Harare’s erratic water supply and degraded sewage system are the root cause of the threat of Typhoid and worse still, cholera.
Councillor for Ward 18 Allan Markham told Harare News that the water department has run out of water treatment chemicals, and that the sewage works at Crowborough are non-functional, with Harare’s faecal matter landing up in Lake Chivero – the city’s main water source.
“Harare has less than 48 hours of treatment chemicals in stock at any one time. They are literally buying chemicals today for tomorrow due to lack of funds, whereas they should have a strategic reserve to last a couple of months. What happens if the guy supplying them runs out?” said Markham. He believes that the sanitation and drinking water situation is a lurking disaster.
“We are going to see major cholera and typhoid outbreaks when the rains start. There is raw sewage lying all over Chivero’s catchment area that will get washed straight into the lake with the first rain. There will be standing water everywhere that is contaminated by sewage. Right now they are back feeding clean water from Darwendale to mix 2:1 with Chivero water to dilute the faecal matter before treating it, which is why they can only pump 300 mega litres a day instead of 450. But now Norton sewage is flowing into Darwendale, so it’s going to get worse.” said Markham.
A former supplier of water treatment chemicals to City of Harare told Harare News that the tenders for supplying these vital, life-saving chemicals are awarded on a corrupt basis. “If you’re not one of the boys, you will not be considered. The chemicals they are getting now are sub-standard, and do not meet international benchmarks. There are technologies out there now that could be rolled out easily to improve Harare’s water, but the technical officers are always wary of change, in case it sends up flags of receiving financial benefits from implementing improvements,” he said.
“The adoption of a new flocculent (for removing solids from the water) from Australia is a positive sign at least. It has reduced the use of expensive and polluting alumnium sulphate,” he added.
Residents of Harare are advised to exercise caution and take extra care of hygiene in the coming months. Asked if municipal water is safe to drink, Dr Chonzi said, “Best practice is to boil all drinking water before consumption, no matter where it comes from in Zimbabwe.” Bring your drinking water to a rolling boil for one minute to be sure it is free from bacteria. Proper removal of heavy metals requires a carbon filter. In addition, Chonzi advises that “basic personal hygiene such as washing hands is vital, and don’t just eat food from anywhere – it must be prepared in hygienic conditions – which unlicensed places often do not have.” All raw foods must be washed thoroughly in clean water, and cooked foods must be served hot to avoid contamination.
Symptoms of typhoid start six to thirty days after contraction. They include a gradually increasing fever, weakness, abdominal pain, constipation, and a headache. Diarrhoea is not a common symptom, and vomiting is usually not severe. A skin rash with pink spots may appear. If you are worried about any of the above symptoms, visit a clinic or doctor immediately