By Petronella Sibeene
A cholera outbreak has killed one person and infected dozens more in northern Namibia, where floods that have displaced thousands of people are widely spreading the disease.
Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Richard Kamwi, yesterday said during the past week 72 suspected cases of cholera were reported at the Engela Health District. Of these, four were confirmed as cholera cases.
Engela is in the Ohangwena Region. Yesterday’s The Namibian newspaper reported that the Engela State Hospital had been completely cut off by floodwater.
The disease outbreak comes as a result of overflowing sewerage oxidation ponds and VIP toilets resulting in contamination of the floodwater, which some villagers use for human consumption.
“The provision of health services is heavily compromised by the floods in the northern regions, the minister said.
The ministry has put up a special emergency treatment facility where all suspected cases should be reported.
Floods have damaged infrastructure in most parts of northern Namibia resulting in the suspension of outreach services.
The minister said floods have cut off about 12 clinics in the Oshikoto, Oshana, Ohangwena and Omusati regions.
Oshana Regional Health Director, Dr Naftal Hamata, said there is fear the cholera might spread further given the current flood situation in the area.
Health officials are on the ground to provide the necessary resources in order to contain and prevent further spread of waterborne diseases, the minister said.
Tomorrow Kamwi is expected to visit the flooded northern regions.
Cholera is an acute illness with profuse watery diarrhoea caused by the vibrio cholerae bacteria. It is transmitted through the faeco-oral route mainly by drinking or eating contaminated water or food.
Symptoms of cholera include passing a lot of loose watery stools which look like rice water, stools have a fishy smell and dehydration and weakness may occur very rapidly.
The minister strongly urged residents in flooded areas to immediately report any cases of people showing any of these symptoms.
He said all communities in flooded areas should be alert.
To avoid contracting cholera, the minister said people should drink boiled water, wash hands before preparing food and after using the toilet, avoid washing hands from the same bowl at gatherings such as weddings and funerals, wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating. The minister added that people should avoid using the bush to relief themselves or if they do so, they should ensure that human waste is buried or properly disposed of.
Too much water has led to the flooding of water pump surroundings leading to the sewage effluent mixing with drinking water. It is this contaminated water that has raised fears of more waterborne disease outbreaks.
Hamata, however, said health officials are running education campaigns on the disease outbreak.
“We started with distributing health information just when the floods started and we continue to do so. We also work with the Emergency Management Unit in distributing chlorine powder (for water treatment)…” he said.
The Ministry of Defence has also been involved in the distribution of health supplies in all health facilities in flooded areas.
“We were with defence officials during the weekend. We visited some health facilities by helicopter. This was to ensure that they do not run out of supplies,” he added.
Health officials in the four regions are also concerned about malaria cases, which Dr Hamata says, are also on the increase.
Last week only, about nine cases were reported in the Oshana Region, he said.
Dr Hamata added that heavy rains in northern Namibia have resulted in many ponds holding stagnant water. This has created a conducive environment for mosquito breeding.
While the ministry and other stakeholders have distributed mosquito nets to the affected families, some have turned these into fishnets.