On patrol: Zambian police forces on the streets of Lusaka’s Kanyama township during clashes with protesters Picture: AFP/Dawood Salim
On patrol: Zambian police forces on the streets of Lusaka’s Kanyama township during clashes with protesters Picture: AFP/Dawood Salim

SA and Zambia are both battling bacterial diseases that have left a number of people dead and many others infected.

Earlier this month Zambia’s government banned the reopening of institutions of learning countrywide until further notice due to an outbreak of cholera in the capital, Lusaka. It later revised the decision, saying schools could reopen on January 23.

Government also outlawed church gatherings in Lusaka before restricting the ban to cholera epicentres only. But operations at government institutions such as national registration and passport offices remain halted until further notice.

The epidemic is hitting business operations in the country. All shops in the Lusaka CBD have been closed for days now, and bars have had their hours of operation restricted.

More than 20 markets have been closed, affecting the livelihoods and social security of many families. And chain stores such as Pick n Pay and food outlets such as Hungry Lion have had some branches closed after the discovery of cholera bacteria in some of their food. Street vending has also been banned, leaving thousands without a means of earning a living.

President Edgar Lungu has directed the army, air force and Zambia national service to clean the streets of Lusaka to ensure the risk of further outbreaks is minimised.

Alliance for Community Action executive director Laura Miti says it is all very well for government to take measures aimed at preventing the spread of the disease. But she adds that the current measures have not tackled structural problems, and they do nothing to ease the suffering of vendors who have been evicted from their selling points.

"We have a cholera response that has not tackled even one structural problem," says Miti. "Nothing has been said about toilets in informal settlements, markets and the CBD; nothing about a functional garbage collection system, or the debilitating water shortages all over Lusaka."

Miti speaks of a failure to address the vendors’ immediate humanitarian needs. "Not a single minister has mentioned the hunger that must be ravaging the homes of people who are not selling [their wares] or shown that anyone in government is concerned about what they are eating," she says.

WHAT IT MEANS

Since the start of Zambia’s cholera outbreak in October, 142 people have died. Listeriosis has killed more than 60 in SA so far.

Among those affected are the residents of Kanyama, one of the cholera epicentres in Lusaka, whose livelihoods have been disturbed by the ban on street vending. On January 12 they took to the streets to force government to designate a new trading place.

Government accused opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema of inciting the riot, and home affairs minister Stephen Kampyongo urged Hichilema not to take advantage of the situation. "We are not going to tolerate that kind of behaviour because we all have a responsibility — those in government and those in the opposition — to make sure that we deal with the situation. No-one must politicise this matter and make political mileage out of a desperate situation like this," he warned.

Cholera is an acute diarrhoeal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the vibrio cholerae bacterium. A global threat to public health, it is an indicator of inequity and a lack of social development. Researchers estimate that there are 1.3m-4m cholera cases around the world each year, and 21,000-143,000 deaths due to the bacterial infection.

It takes between 12 hours and five days for a person to show symptoms after ingesting contaminated food or water. Cholera affects children and adults alike and can kill within hours if left untreated.

Since the outbreak began in October, 142 deaths have been recorded, says health minister Chitalu Chilufya.

In SA, meanwhile, listeriosis has killed more than 60 people and more than 700 cases have been confirmed. It has mainly affected the most populous areas of Gauteng.

This could be the largest outbreak of the bacterial disease yet, according to the UN.

Listeriosis is a serious disease that has a three-week incubation period, making it difficult to establish the source and tough to prevent. It is caused by the listeria monocytogenes bacterium, which is found in soil, water, vegetation and some animal faeces.

People are being urged to wash their hands before and often during food preparation; to separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other food; and to cook food thoroughly, especially meat, poultry, eggs and seafood.

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