Police have issued a ban on all public gatherings to control the spread of the disease

Patients await treatment at a makeshift cholera clinic in Harare on September 11 2018. Picture: REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Harare — Zimbabwe’s government has declared a state of emergency over a cholera outbreak that has left at least 21 dead and thousands ill.

The disease has mainly affected the capital Harare where high-density suburbs have been most hit.

It has also brought back memories of 2008 during the country’s worst economic crisis when the World Health Organisation (WHO) said about 500 people perished from the disease. Ten years on, Zimbabwe’s health sector is still paralysed and the outbreak has become yet another headache for President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Health minister Obadiah Moyo told journalists on Tuesday, after visiting a treatment camp, that the government is concerned that the disease is spreading fast. "We are declaring an emergency for Harare. This will enable us to contain cholera and typhoid in the city as quickly as possible. We do not want further deaths, so if we do not create this disaster emergency situation, we will continue losing lives."

He blamed the disease on a poor sewerage system, as well as workers that slept on duty. "Someone slept on duty and this is one of the problems we must tackle as Zimbabwe. People must work. This whole problem is a result of blocked sewers and these were reported, but were never repaired for at least two months."

Moyo said the government is also clamping down on illegal food vending, which is a source of income for thousands of unemployed Zimbabweans who eke out a living in informal ways.

Public gatherings

The police have issued a ban on all public gatherings in Harare to control the spread of the disease. In a statement, the national police spokesperson Charity Charamba urged members of the public to take heed of the ban as it would assist in alleviating the spread of cholera, but did not say how long the ban would last.

Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa had planned to hold a rally on Saturday where he may take a mock presidential oath, three weeks after Mnangagwa was inaugurated following a court decision upholding his disputed election victory. His spokesperson could not comment immediately as to whether this will still take place.

Chamisa visited clinics where cholera patients were being treated on Wednesday and called for collaboration between city health officials and the government. Health minister Moyo told a meeting of government departments dealing with the outbreak that more than 3,000 people have been infected with cholera and the disease has now spread outside the capital.

This is the biggest cholera outbreak since 2008 when 4,000 people died and more than 40,000 were treated for this disease, according to ministry of health data.

With Reuters

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