Harare | Typhoid outbreak

“We suspect biological warfare by imperialists”

Harare is in the grip of an outbreak of typhoid fever. Since the first reported case on October 10, 2011, the water-borne diarrheal disease has spread to 41 districts around the city, with more than 3,000 new cases reported weekly. For many Harare residents it has brought back memories of a cholera outbreak that killed 4,000 people in 2009.

Many have criticised the city council’s response to the emergency; for his part, the city’s deputy mayor, Emmanuel Chiroto, refuses to take responsibility, protesting that the council cannot be expected to tackle the problem on its own. In a recent interview with Voice of America, Prosper Chonzi, director of the Harare City Council Health Department, said that the government had dragged its feet in seeking international help.

Claudius Mutero, spokesman of the ruling Zanu PF in Harare, took a rhetorical position: he placed the blame on opposition party-backed economic sanctions. “We suspect biological warfare by imperialists who are using nationals worldwide as conduits,” he stated. “There is no link between the current typhoid outbreak and the British,” Henry Madzorera, the country’s minister of health, was quick to clarify.

Many of the city’s 1.6-million residents hold the government squarely responsible for this latest failing. Harare has not spent any money on maintaining its aging sanitation and water infrastructure in the last two decades. Upgrading this system is at the heart of solving the epidemic. In late January, Tendai Biti, the country’s finance minister, announced a US$40-million project to maintain the city’s water and sanitation works after the IMF had agreed to a financing facility for this purpose. Little has changed in the interim, with additional outbreaks reported in other parts of the country, where the sanitation system is reported to be in a similar, if not worse state than in Harare.

— TT

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