Seven children have died in outbreaks of diarrhea in the Zimbabwean towns of Masvingo and Kadoma with nearly 6,500 cases reported last week alone, authorities said Monday, blaming poor sanitation, leaky sewage systems and insufficient safe water supplies.
Dr. Portia Manangazira, director of disease control for the Ministry of Health, said it is particularly worrisome that 60 percent of cases concern children under age five. She said cities and towns must dispose of garbage properly and provide clean drinking water.
The ministry on Friday teamed up with private companies including Lever Brothers and other partners to promote hand-washing nationwide as a key strategy to stop the spread of water-borne diseases. The event was held in Budiriro, a Harare district hit hard by a cholera epidemic in 2008-2009 which claimed the lives of some 4,200 people.
But Manangazira said the Kadoma and Masvingo outbreaks did not signal a new round of cholera outbreaks. She said the government and its partners have agreed to start an immunization campaign in 2012 to prevent unnecessary diarrhea deaths in children.
"This would be the first time that Zimbabwe will be introducing this new immunization and we are excited because it will help us save so many lives," Manangazira said.
"It remains a major cause for concern to us that children are dying unnecessarily so we have to come up with a mechanism to prevent that and we ask local authorities to do their part," the Health Ministry official said.
Beatrice Ngwenya of the Combined Harare Residents Association said her group is concerned that children are dying from preventable illnesses.
She said most Zimbabwean city councils are failing to concentrate on the problems that contributed to the massive cholera epidemic three years ago. "People are paying their rates but we do not seem to see where the money is going," Ngwenya said.
She said politicians spend money on cars and other non-essential items while ignoring health issues of critical importance to the population. "They continue to misallocate funds to deal with issues that do not help the ordinary person," Ngwenya said.