NEW Harare mayor, Herbert Gomba says the central government and Zanu PF should take responsibility for the cholera outbreak which has so far claimed the lives of 21 people, alleging that a caretaker commission that was put in place to run city’s affairs last month abrogated its duties leading to the outbreak.
BY XOLISANI NCUBE/JAIROS SAUNYAMA/VANESSA GONYE
Health minister Obadiah Moyo told a meeting of government departments dealing with the outbreak that cholera had now spread outside the capital, with more than 3 000 people now infected.
The outbreak is the biggest since 2008 when 4 500 people died and another 40 000 were treated after being infected.
Gomba said although it was not appropriate in the circumstances to play the blame game, the newly-appointed Health minister should “shut up” and assist in solving the crisis as his Zanu PF party and the central government were largely to blame for the outbreak.
“If we are to be honest to ourselves, this issue is all because of Zanu PF and central government. While we accept that our council
ought to have done more in terms of public health management, central government and Zanu PF should feel ashamed for this. They should not even try to blame us, but assist in finding a solution,” Gomba told NewsDay.
Gomba said government last year undertook a study on boreholes and it was discovered that most of them were contaminated and ordered that they be decommissioned.
“But because central government had failed to provide a reliable source of water for the residents, and people continued to use those boreholes,” Gomba said.
“Also, we had a challenge of Zanu PF politicians who, during campaigns, were telling the people to use borehole water even though as council we had decommissioned them. Our workers could not do anything. When the previous council was out of office and government set up a commission, the workers went on strike because the commission did nothing to provide them with protective clothing. This also exposed people to a situation under which no one could do the public health monitoring and garbage collection.”
The Harare mayor said the absence of such mechanisms, exposed residents to unsafe water and the end result was a cholera outbreak.
“We remain committed to do our job to solve the cholera/typhoid pandemic. We have been calling on government to build Kunzvi and Musami dams since 2008 in order to deal with water supply issue and you have a minister coming in saying we have failed, it is sad. People are dying and (residents) certainly don’t need all this,” Gomba stated.
On Tuesday, Moyo blamed council for failing to collect garbage and attending to sewer outbursts in the affected areas as the cause for the outbreak.
But Gomba said from the laboratory tests conducted last week, the epicentre of the outbreak was the same boreholes that had been decommissioned as well as lack of monitoring by city workers on public health.
“The minister should have taken time to ask his officials what happened before opening his mouth. We don’t need to expose our lack of understanding on public health issues so early. This is a problem which central government and Zanu PF should take responsibility for.
“Had the illegal commission which was there attended to the welfare of the workers, we could have prevented this. Had government provided the long talked about Kunzvi Dam and other new water sources, we could have not exposed people to use contaminated boreholes,” Gomba said
Another city councillor, Jacob Mafume, who is also the MDC Alliance spokesperson said the cholera outbreak was a result of “lack of seriousness by central government to fund infrastructural development”.
“The minister has to stop the blame game and focus on the crisis. He should not make us think that (former Health minister David) Parirenyatwa was better by uttering lies. This is a central government issue. He must appreciate that we don’t have enough water to supply residents and central government has the obligation to source for that,” Mafume said.
“They have for years failed to deliver on the Musami or Kunzvi projects. I urge to minister to think more and speak less on these issues. We don’t intend to question his educational capacity or question the authenticity of his doctorate just because he is showing a lack of appreciation of public health issues.”
However Local Government minister July Moyo, who appointed the contentious commission to run Harare, said he had engaged the mayor on the cholera issue and they had agreed on a work programme.
“The issue of the commission is nothing really to the matter we have at hand. The commission was in place for two weeks only. Council management was also there, they ought to have looked at those things,” Moyo said.
“For your own information, I met the mayor and his deputy this morning and we are charting a way forward. I don’t think this would help at all. Let us focus on solving the issue at hand and mapping a way forward than looking for scapegoats.”
Zanu PF spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo said as far as the party was concerned, all urban local authorities have been under the jurisdiction of the MDC and they should not blame anyone for the outbreak.
“The Health minister has details on that, but all I know is that all urban local authorities have been under the MDC.
If they cannot be held accountable for their failure, then they should not be anywhere near governance.”
In Mashonaland East province, six cases of cholera have so far been reported.
According to provincial epidemiology and disease control officer Paul Matsvimbo, of the six suspected cases, three were reported in Marondera, while Murehwa, Seke and Wedza districts reported a case each.
“The province received reports of suspected a cholera outbreak on Friday evening and as of Tuesday, six suspected cases have been reported,” he said.
“All the cases so far are linked to an earlier cholera outbreak in Harare, they did not originate within this province. One of the patients admitted to Wedza Hospital actually stays in Glen View and had gone to Wedza for work.
The one admitted at Musami (Murehwa) had also travelled from Glen View, so these cases are directly linked with Harare.”
Meanwhile, First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa has urged responsible authorities to implement measures to eliminate factors leading to the spread of disease.
Speaking after a tour of Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases Hospital, Auxillia also called on people to ensure their safety at all costs.
“All this is happening as a result of overcrowding and poor service delivery. People should be given land to build houses and avoid overcrowding and the subsequent spread of diseases like cholera,” she said.
Zimbabwe’s largest mobile network, Econet Wireless joined the fight against the outbreak and yesterday launched a public awareness campaign.
The group yesterday said it has also begun to offer material support to public health teams working to combat the epidemic.
“We have partnered with the government, through the Health and Child Care ministry’s department of epidemiology and disease control, to offer centrally co-ordinated material support to the nationwide effort to combat the cholera outbreak,” the company’s chief executive, Douglas Mboweni said.
“We are sad at the deaths that have been reported due to the outbreak of this disease and we will play our part by using our resources and our reach to help prevent the spread of the disease and save lives.”
He said the support included preventive items, such as hand sterilisation material, aqua tablets and special protective clothing for health workers, as well as case management supplies that include antibiotic medicines and IVR fluids.
Mboweni said Econet had already begun sending out free SMS alerts to the public, educating them on how the disease is contracted and how it spreads, how to avoid contracting the disease, how to prevent its spread and how to treat it.