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‘Safe water, sanitation key to ending medieval diseases’

Zimbabwe is currently battling a cholera outbreak, with cases continuing to surge weeks after the country launched a mass oral vaccination exercise to stop the disease from spreading.

HEALTH experts this week urged the government to provide people with safe water and sanitation, as a critical intervention and long-term strategy to eradicate medieval diseases like cholera and polio.

Zimbabwe is currently battling a cholera outbreak, with cases continuing to surge weeks after the country launched a mass oral vaccination exercise to stop the disease from spreading.

As of February 14, the country has recorded 24 525 suspected cholera cases and 457 suspected deaths.

This week, the country launched an emergency polio vaccination campaign for almost four million children, following the discovery of three cases caused by a rare mutation of the weakened virus used in oral vaccines.

According to the authorities, laboratory testing conducted on samples taken from sewage sites in various parts of Harare towards the end of the previous year revealed the existence of a mutant polio virus that was first discovered in an oral vaccination used in the worldwide eradication campaign.

Rarely, the live polio virus contained in vaccines may change into a form that might start new outbreaks, particularly in areas with low vaccination rates and inadequate hygiene.

“As a country that is currently struggling to address the basics of water, sanitation and hygiene then this does not look good. As you know, polio is also transmitted through the faecal oral route,” Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike said.

“Provision of safe water, safe sanitation and good hygienic disposal is the key intervention and long-term solution to elimination of this medieval disease. As long as we don't fully address the causes of these outbreaks, we will remain in firefighting mode.

"The response to the polio outbreak requires an organized and collective approach buttressed by the active participation of the community as it is not just the responsibility of the health sector alone.”

Hamadziripi Dube, a medical doctor, said the government should make it mandatory for all children under 10 years to be vaccinated at school.

“Polio vaccine campaign is at its initial stage. Polio outbreak being a cause for concern, the government has to create a policy where under 10-year vaccinations must be done at primary school as an obligation and with no negotiations. This must be put in a statutory instrument so that the public is made to understand its mandatory,” he said.

Dube said community and political leaders must be involved in the campaign, educating the parents about the benefits of getting vaccinated and disadvantages of not taking this polio vaccine.

“Visual campaigns of the vaccination process must be aired for the nation to know that the vaccines are safe and effective," he said.

Unicef observed that this is the first time Zimbabwe is using the novel OPV2 vaccine, a critical new and safe tool in the fight against cVDPV2 launched by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 2021.

The nOPV2 has been successfully used in several African countries, including Ethiopia, Benin, Congo Republic, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

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