Cholera outbreak in Zambia leads to school, church cancellations

Credit: Riccardo Mayer/Shutterstock.
Credit: Riccardo Mayer/Shutterstock.

.- A cholera outbreak in the southern African country of Zambia, centered on the capital Lusaka, has led to an indefinite cancellation of some school openings and church services.

“We have had an outbreak of cholera from October 6, 2017 and it has affected mainly Lusaka Province and we have recorded sporadic cases in various parts of the country,” read a statement from Zambia’s Minister of Health, Chitalu Chilufya, and the Minister of Education, Dennis Wanchinga, according to Africa News.

As of Jan. 9, an estimated 2,802 individuals have been infected by cholera throughout Zambia, including 66 deaths - the majority of which have occurred in Lusaka.

Due to the outbreak, a handful of ecclesial communities in Lusaka have cancelled services as a precaution against the spread of the disease. In addition, schools have indefinitely called off classes for students.

The Zambian bishops' conference has limited the number of Masses in some places, and cancelled the sign of peace at Masses which are still being held.

Representatives of three Christian communities in Zambia – the Catholic Church, the Council of Churches in Zambia, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia – issued a Jan. 8 statement on national dialogue which included a lamentation over the cholera crisis.

“Our hearts go to the many families who have lost their loved ones from the disease. We pray for God’s peace, comfort and encouragement during this time of national crisis. We pray for the various teams working on the ground to fight the cholera outbreak so that this may be overcome quickly and life may be restored to normal,” they said. “We support the efforts of other stakeholders in this battle against cholera and pledge ourselves to collaborate with government in addressing the epidemic.”

Kanyama, one of the poorest townships in Lusaka, has been particularly affected by the disease, according to Reuters. Because of this, government intervention in the area has enforced a curfew, and has also banned street vending and public gatherings while the threat of cholera remains.

Cholera is caused by bacterial infection. Within a few hours of infection, the disease causes vomiting and diarrhoea, leading to severe dehydration that can be deadly without rapid intervention. Access to clean water and sanitation is critical to control the spread of cholera, and those with mild symptoms can usually be treated with hydration and antibiotics, although some cases require intravenous fluids.

Recent investigations have shown that the cholera outbreak in Zambia has been caused mainly by food contamination, according to Reuters. Three restaurants have been shut down after they were found to contain the cholera bacterium.

Government efforts have been set in place to combat the spread of cholera in the country. A vaccine will be available for administration Jan. 10 in the areas most affected by the disease, according to Lusaka Times.

Zambia’s president also highlighted the work of the Zambia Defence Forces, which have been collaborating with other organizations in the fight against the disease.

“I have directed all three wings of the Defence Force to join the Ministry of Health and the city fathers, Lusaka City Council to escalate efforts to minimize the spread of cholera in our capital city and the rest of the country,” said President Edgar Lungu of Zambia last month.

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