Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

‘Govt under-reported cholera deaths’

The recent cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe could have killed over 100 people amid fears an official government count did not capture a majority of the deaths in a bid to conceal negligence.

A nurse takes care of a cholera patient during a visit of Zimbabwe Minister of Health, at the cholera treatment centre of the Beatrice Infectious Diseases Hospital, in Harare, on September 11, 2018. At least 18 people have died over the past week in the Zimbabwe capital Harare and scores fallen ill after a cholera and typhoid outbreak in some areas, authorities said on September 10, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Jekesai NJIKIZANA
A nurse takes care of a cholera patient during a visit of Zimbabwe Minister of Health, at the cholera treatment centre of the Beatrice Infectious Diseases Hospital, in Harare, on September 11, 2018. At least 18 people have died over the past week in the Zimbabwe capital Harare and scores fallen ill after a cholera and typhoid outbreak in some areas, authorities said on September 10, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Jekesai NJIKIZANA

Official government figures show only 54 people succumbed to the disease but cholera-related deaths reported at funeral parlours suggest there was significant under-reporting. 

Drawing on funeral parlour information and crowd-sourced information, it seemed government missed most of the deaths or just downplayed the crisis to evade international scrutiny.

In some of the cases, official records could not capture the cases because some of the victims were quietly transported out of town due to stigma attached to the disease.

Health and Child Care minister Obadiah Moyo flatly denied the allegations, insisting the figures presented were correct.

“The figures are 100 percent correct, we have got our people on the field in all the provinces and we receive information from the provincial medical director’s office on a daily basis,” he told the Daily on Sunday.

“It’s not to any advantage for us to under quote because we have already declared the outbreak a national disaster. 

“If at all, we should be increasing the numbers but we are stating the figures as they are,” he said.

Hebert Gomba, the mayor for Harare — the epicentre of the latest outbreak — said all the deaths were relayed to government correctly, claiming it was impossible to conceal cholera cases because patients have to be certified on whether they died of cholera or not.

“We cannot fake the information because at the end of the day, pathologists want to certify what triggered the death of a person in order to give them a death certificate,” he said.

“Besides, we are not working alone, we have many non-governmental organisations that are monitoring us and the death toll cannot be connived,” Gomba added.

The general manager of the Zimbabwe Association of Funeral Assurers, Taka Svosve could neither confirm nor deny that cholera deaths were under-reported.

“We have not been taking down the cholera deaths statistics, but as we continue, we will keep track of the numbers as we have learnt that the society needs this information.

“We are definitely going to implement that in terms of data collection,” he said.

He added that the only thing the funeral industry has done was to carry out awareness workshops on infectious diseases for undertakers, morticians and the rest of its members.

Svosve said there is strict supervision in terms of cholera victims’ burial and more often the Health and Child Care ministry is involved in the whole process.

Caused by ingesting bacteria from contaminated water or food, cholera usually manifests itself with sudden acute diarrhoea and can kill within hours, although three-quarters of infected people show no symptoms.

The short incubation period means outbreaks can spread quickly, especially in places without safe water or sanitation.

Funeral parlours that handled the deaths told this publication that in strict confidence that there wasn’t an accurate count of the number of people killed by cholera that hit the country early September.

The first case of a 25-year-old woman was presented to a local hospital on September 5.

Thereafter, there was a rapid increase in the number of suspected cases reported per day before the trend tapered off.

There was a peak with 473 suspected cases notified on September 9, according to government figures.

As of September 15, 3 621 cumulative suspected cases, including 71 confirmed cases, and 32 deaths had been reported.

Of these reported cases, 3 564 cases were reported from Glen View and Budiriro.

Cholera deaths have been a cause for concern as the 2008 epidemic in Zimbabwe resulted in 
98 585 reported cases and 4 287 reported deaths.

The initial outbreak was notable for its high cumulative case fatality rate of 4,3 percent that persisted over a protracted duration of 10 months. Daily News