Floods to worsen Zimbabwe’s health woes

FLOODED rivers and homes, collapsing infrastructure, uncollected garbage, rotting vegetables at vegetable markets, clogged storm water drains and traffic jams caused by flooded streets have all become talking points on social media as Zimbabweans try to laugh off their otherwise appalling conditions.
The incessant rains, some of the heaviest the country has seen in recent times — though a welcome relief after two consecutive seasons of erratic rainfall — have triggered heavy flooding countrywide and has given the largely jobless population something to yap about on social media.
But, many are probably oblivious to the grave health dangers the incessant rains are posing.
For instance Harare’s Mbare, one of the country’s oldest suburbs, has become an eyesore with muddy streets skirted by pools of sewerage outflows testifying why indeed the overcrowded residential area became the epicentre of the current typhoid outbreak.
The floods have increased the potential for other waterborne diseases such as cholera and hepatitis A; while the stagnant pools of water countrywide will propagate vector borne diseases such as malaria, bilharzias and yellow fever.
Other health risks, which can be caused by flooding, include drowning, hypothermia, electrocutions and respiratory infections such as pneumonia and asthma.
The Southern African Development Community Regional Early Warning Bulletin for the 2016/17 highlights that the normal to above normal rainfall condition may induce surface water stagnation and flooding that may cause physical havoc in many countries with many people getting ill (morbidity) and many more dying (mortality).
Flooding due to too much stagnating water, according to the bulletin, increases the chances of water borne diseases such as cholera and other diarrhoeal illnesses.
“There is also the increase of rodent-borne diseases such as plague. Vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and others have also increased in times of floods. Malaria increases maternal and child health morbidity and mortality. There has been a noticeable increase particularly in our region of rift valley fever, bacterial meningitis and yellow fever,” reads the bulletin in part.
Lack of sanitation and hygiene due to floods has been identified as the immediate cause of illness and mortality.
Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) secretary general, Evans Masitara, said the incessant rains in the New Year have complicated matters for the country, which is currently grappling with the typhoid outbreak.
The outbreak of typhoid could get out of control because of the country’s shambolic emergency response mechanisms.
“Our health sector has been suffering a steady decline over the years due to poor management and lack of adequate resources…The typhoid outbreak is not under control and is actually spreading to other towns and cities with cases being reported in Marondera, Mutare and Masvingo,” said Masitara.
Given poor service delivery, especially in Harare where garbage goes for months without being collected, the country is sitting on a health time bomb which could explode soon, leading to unnecessary loss of lives.
Apart from the heaps of uncollected garbage, Harare is also grappling with erratic water supplies, burst sewer pipes and poor drainage due to haphazard construction of houses on wetlands.
“Meanwhile, the blame game continues as departments shift responsibility for the crisis, and then we have some wise politicians who lack common sense, blaming all this on the poor vendors,” Masitara said.
Without the capacity to deal with the looming disaster, the health sector is overwhelmed, chiefly because of human, financial and material resource constraints.
This is being compounded by low salaries, poor working conditions as well as dilapidated infrastructure.
The population of Zimbabwe continues to expand while the healthcare delivery infrastructure deteriorates.
Government has over the years failed to comply with the Abuja Declaration concerning healthcare funding with the last National Budget allocation for health representing a measly six percent of the total budget.
“The issue is not really a resources issue, but that of misplaced priorities. A week ago it was reported that Atracurium, a drug used for anaesthesia in life saving operations, was running out because the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe was not making payments to suppliers on time. This just shows how skewed our leaders priorities are. How can they choose to ignore the fact that health is a basic human right, provided for in our constitution?” Masitara added.
The country’s poor living environments have affected a wide range of health outcomes leading to recurrent epidemics such typhoid.
ZADHR has thrust the entire blame for the country’s recurrent disease outbreaks on the Ministry of Health and Child Care which it says has not instituted proper systems to prevent disease recurrences and avoidable loss of lives.
In the absence of a proactive Health Ministry, Community Working Group on health executive director, Itai Rusike, believes the health burden for local authorities has been especially unbearable given the fact that most of the council are broke, having very little capacity to address the challenges they are facing due to the failure by the residents to pay their bills.
“The local authorities face a lot of interference from an equally struggling central government incapable of bailing them out due to a tight fiscal space,” said Rusike.