In last week’s issue,I did put it clearly that the recently declared outbreak of cholera in the two districts of Machinga and Zomba was supposed to be a scare to the Ministry of Health and its staff. I did put several factors that led me to make that hypothesis.
Firstly, I talked about the fact that Zomba and Machinga being potential sources of the outbreak for so many years and the fact that this has been common knowledge should have made the ministry more prepared about this.
Secondly, I said that the government does not have enough resources. And the story of scarcity of resources in the Ministry of Health is also common knowledge. Lastly, I looked at the prevailing hunger which, according to reports, is expected to get worse in the months that we normally associate with starvation, February and early March.
One thing that I did not talk about that time was the fact that Tanzania is heavily affected by cholera outbreak, including border district of Kiyera. This also posed a high risk of the disease spreading into Malawi.
Now, this was a hypothesis at the time I was writing that piece. I know that I hypothesis is expected to be exposed to a scientific test to be accepted or rejected. However, literally, what I was expecting has really happened, if the reports we are reading in the newspapers are anything to go by.
In the 7th January issue of The Nation, Mercy Malikwa reported that as of 6th January 2015, the Ministry of Health had registered 309 cases from the 19 registered around two weeks earlier, with 12 deaths. Apart from Machinga and Zomba, two districts bordering Tanzania, Nkhata Bay and Karonga had finally fallen in. Ironically all the deaths had occurred in Machinga.
The Ministry of Health provided reasons for the increase in cases, especially in Machinga and Zomba. The reasons as explained last week are obvious and common knowledge. First and foremost, Lake Chilwa is a repository of Vibrio cholerae, bacteria which causes cholera. It was, therefore, very surprising to me to hear, according to newspaper reports, that the Ministry of Health believed the onset of the outbreak and increase of cases is because of unhygienic practices by the zimbowera (floating temporary houses deep in the lake) guys while high death rate is due to long time taken transferring patients to treatment centres.
Like I said last week and today above, the issue of combined risks due to vibrios in Lake Chilwa and life style of the zimbowera people has been very common knowledge for many years. Why should we still be letting numbers increase exponentially and even Case Fatality Rate from cholera increase beyond WHO standards of less than 1 percent? Why should we blame the onset of the outbreak and its exponential increase on lifestyles yet the role of the Ministry of Health in Public Health is to tame such life styles and prevent and control the development and spread of the disease.
Does it mean the whole government through the Ministry of Health is being failed by the zimbowera people and their unhygienic lifestyles? Yet we know that government does not have enough resources which I believe that’s why the ministry is failing to set up a treatment camp there. If the newspaper reports of taking time to transport patients to treatment centres are anything to go by.
It’s high time we tamed these zimbowera guys once and for all. Why allow them to take the country to ransom? Otherwise, the Ministry of Health should be more scared of this year’s cholera outbreak. n