Escalating fears over diarrhoeal diseases


HARARE – As the country recently joined the rest of the world in commemorating Global Hand washing Day (GHD), signs of a typhoid outbreak in Harare’s high density suburbs and the onset of Zimbabwe’s rainy season have accentuated fears of diarrhoeal disease epidemic.

This also comes as the transmission of such bugs as cholera, shigellosis and typhoid have been under the spotlight by various stakeholders.

While experts say comprehensive hand washing can help reduce diarrheal pathogens, preventative measures must go beyond the ordinary vectors such as poor sanitation facilities, uncovered food and unprotected water sources, but other things such as cigarettes and consumptive goodies.

“Human faeces are the main source of diarrheal pathogens. They are the source of shigellosis, typhoid, cholera, all other common endemic gastro-enteric infections and some respiratory infections such as influenza and pneumonia,” an aid worker said, adding “a single gramme of human waste can contain 10 million viruses and one million bacteria”.

“These pathogens are passed from an infected host to a new one via various routes, but all of these illnesses emanate from faeces. Removing excreta and cleaning hands with soap after contact with faecal material — from using the toilet or cleaning a child — prevents the transmission of the bacteria, viruses and protozoa that cause diarrhoeal diseases.”

With research showing that a majority of vendors around the country sell their goodies, including fruits, vegetables and cigarettes in potentially hazardous conditions, concerns abound that this gives rise to the proliferation of such diseases.

As 400 people have died and another 420 000 diarrhoeal cases recorded since January this year — raising fears of another major outbreak like the 2008/9 cholera outbreak when 4 000 lives were lost — health experts say Zimbabweans need to step up their behavioural habits.

“Measures such as food handling, water purification, and fly control have an impact on these diseases, but sanitation and hand washing provide the necessary protection against faecal contact,” the aid worker said.

“They start by creating initial barriers to faecal pathogens from reaching the domestic environment. Hand washing with soap stops the transmission of disease agents and so can significantly reduce diarrhoeal, and respiratory infections, and may impact skin and eye infections.”

As such, the GHD was founded by the United Nations General Assembly to sensitise millions around the globe on the benefits of hand washing and disease prevention.

Addressing at a recent commemorative event, Health minister David Parirenyatwa and his Mashonaland Central counterpart Simbaneuta Mudarikwa said the province had been chosen for its lack of ample ablution facilities, which promoted the use of open defecation and raised the threat of disease outbreaks.

As the theme for 2013 was targeted at children in over 70 countries around the world, research shows that those living in households exposed to hand washing promotion had half the diarrheal rates of children living in control neighbourhoods.

“Since hand washing can prevent the transmission of a variety of pathogens… ingraining this habit could save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention.”

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