The IRC Ramps Up Its Effort to Battle Cholera in Zimbabwe
As the death toll from Zimbabwe’s cholera outbreak continues to climb, the International Rescue Committee is ramping up its emergency programs to combat the epidemic.
“As devastating as a cholera outbreak can be, it’s actually fairly easily avoided and treated,” said Eric James, coordinator of the IRC’s emergency response team in Zimbabwe. “But only about half of the country’s cholera treatment facilities have electricity, so it's very difficult if not impossible to treat people at night requiring things like intravenous lines.”
In its latest efforts, the IRC’s response team will be distributing “light kits” containing candles, matches and wind-up flashlights to 250 cholera treatments centers around the country. The distribution coincides with the official signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the IRC and the Zimbabwe Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, the first step for the IRC to become a registered non-governmental organization in the country. The IRC will work in cooperation with the Ministry, as well as the District Development Fund (DDF), the rural development arm of the government.
In January, the IRC launched an effort to help stem what is described as one of the worst cholera outbreaks in the world. It has now killed over 3,900 people and infected over 85,000 since it began last August, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). This has surpassed WHO’s original estimate of 60,000 cases and the organization anticipates anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 new cases in coming months.
“Like many other diseases, this outbreak is symptomatic of an overall breakdown in development and public services such as health, water and sanitation,” says Jessica Taublib-Kiriat, the IRC’s emergency program coordinator. “About half of Zimbabwe’s 12 million inhabitants are potentially at risk from cholera because of poor living conditions, limited medical services and lack of access to clean water.”
The IRC is collaborating with the aid group Plan International to launch education and awareness campaigns to improve hygiene conditions and practices. In addition, the IRC plans to renovate dilapidated water sources in the disease-stricken and impoverished eastern districts of Mutare, Mutasa, Chiredzi and Mutoko with funding from the Dutch donor Stichting Vluchteling (SV) and the Oak Foundation. Under the scheme, the IRC will also repair water points and provide water tanks to cholera treatment centers across the country.
“We are also training health workers to detect and report cholera at an early stage, and to handle food and water safely,” Taublib-Kiriat says. “To help families maintain proper hygiene, we will distribute soap, water purification tablets, water tanks, jerry cans and other items.”
The IRC is also conducting a rapid assessment in Zimbabwe to gauge the needs of especially vulnerable people, particularly women, children and the displaced with the aim of carrying out further assistance in cooperation with other aid organizations operating in the country.