Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

Swift action by health authorities and Red Cross volunteers saves lives as cholera shuts down community life and people focus on stopping the outbreak’s spread

Where children would normally be playing, it is now quiet on the streets of Mapanza, a small village in the southwest of Zimbabwe. The communal gatherings for meals have ceased, laughter is absent, and everyday clothing has been replaced by rain boots and protective suits.

The village is grappling with a relentless cholera outbreak, starkly highlighting the severity of the disease.

On a recent day of heavy rains, puddles surround the three large tents in the middle of the village. Medical personnel with masks and gloves move in and out of the tents. IV drips are carried into the tent where the most critical patients lie.

In the other two tents, health workers attend to patients whose conditions have stabilized. Occasionally, a curious child peeks out from the tent. She appears to be about five years old.

As we walk further into the village, we encounter Alec. “It likely started at a church service where many people gathered,” says Alec, friendly and energetic man who lives in the village and who personally experienced how quickly cholera can strike without mercy. “Shortly after that, people started getting sick.”

Sources of contamination

In addition, the community shares one water source, which got contaminated. Since cholera easily spreads through water, nearly half of the village was estimated to have fallen ill. There are no healthcare facilities in the area, exacerbating the situation to a critical level within hours.

People were lying on the ground with nowhere to go, Alec recalls. “People started experiencing severe diarrhea and vomiting profusely,” he said. “Almost half of the compound population was down, and a local couple tried to ferry as many people as possible to the hospital in Chiredzi, but it was overwhelming. The worst affected were children and women; people also died.” 

Alec also had to fight for his life. After he fell ill, his wife waited anxiously for news about her husband. She couldn’t be with him and didn’t know his condition. It was a nerve-wracking period.

An immediate response

Today, when visitors come to the village, it’s hard to grasp that this nightmare happened just a few weeks ago. While the events still loom large over the community, and things are still far from normal, fewer people are falling ill and very few are dying, thanks to those who mobilized to help.

Volunteers from the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society (ZRCS) immediately supported the Ministry of Health and Child Care, bringing tents, medical supplies, and “oral rehydration solutions” so that people could be safely treated and no longer had to lie on the ground. Together with the Ministry of Health, they were able to control the outbreak.

Even now, volunteers are everywhere in the village. Many of them, such as Alec’s wife, are community members who volunteered after experiencing what cholera did to their loved ones. She now participates in door-to-door campaigns, informing people about how to protect themselves so that an outbreak of this magnitude does not happen again. 

Since the beginning of the outbreak, ZRCS volunteers and staff have been taking action to combat the spread of cholera and provide care for patients. The Red Cross has also been supporting the Ministry of Health in setting up a cholera treatment centre to allow individuals with symptoms of cholera access to appropriate care. 

Volunteers have also been visiting communities to inform people on how to protect themselves and their loved ones, as well as what to do if they become ill. 

To jumpstart the initial response, the IFRC’s Disaster Response Emergency Fund (IFRC-DREF) allocated CHF 500,000 and soon after, the IFRC launched an emergency appeal seeking CHF 3 million in order to to reach more than 550,000 people with life-saving assistance and help to contain the outbreak.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).


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