IS HARARE NOW A HUGE SEWAGE POND ? | The outbreak of typhoid in Harare last week torched a heated debate on social media with some observers blaming the city fathers for the scourge whilst others wanted to pin it on Government.
As the typhoid debate ensued, new twists emerged on the matter when the City of Harare Director of Health Services, Dr Prosper Chonzi, told a local paper that the municipality was seeking permission from Government to inoculate all residents against the medieval disease.
Dr Chonzi told the paper that all along council had been dispensing the typhoid vaccine to its employees working at sewage plants but now wants to give it to all residents. The proposal to vaccinate all residents against typhoid elicited more questions than answers. If the typhoid vaccine was previously only given to sewage plant workers, why recommend it for the rest of the city?
Is this a tacit admission by the MDC-T city fathers that they have turned the capital city into a huge sewerage pond in which everyone living in it has to be inoculated against medieval diseases?
What is raising more stench is that council has chosen the vaccination route as a way to fight typhoid instead of prioritising the rehabilitation of its antiquated water supply infrastructure. This seems to be an admission by council that it has failed to improve the quality of water supplies in the city. But how practical is the vaccination exercise? According to Zimbabwe’s 2012 census, Harare has a population of 2 123 132 people. Also a search on internet reveals that a single dose of a typhoid vaccine could costs around $200.
What it means is that council requires a staggering US$425 million to inoculate all residents against typhoid. This is a lot of money that can easily be directed towards the rehabilitation of the town’s obsolete water and sewer reticulation infrastructure. With the rehabilitation of Harare’s Morton Jaffray water plant fraudulently pegged at $144 million, the money earmarked for the typhoid vaccination would easily be used to revamp the rest of the town’s water supply system.
The refurbishment of the system would improve water quality and probably eliminate the possibility of future outbreaks of primitive diseases such as typhoid. Council should also slash its wage bill, which is currently gobbling a large chunk of its revenue. Municipal salaries are way above market average, with a council senior nurse said to earn $1 350 compared to $600 paid to those at Government health institutions.
The realignment of the wage bill would allow the local authority to redirect a large portion of its revenue towards service delivery thus improving water quality and foster a clean environment.
Council should also realise that it would not be enough to simply inoculate residents alone as more people would trickle into Harare from rural areas or from outside the country. Without a safe water supply, these visitors would also need to be vaccinated prior to their visit. And how many from the rural areas would afford a vaccine bill of $200? Moreover, what kind of message are we sending to tourists with this typhoid vaccine narrative?
How many tourists would volunteer to visit a supposedly typhoid- infested Zimbabwe? This would indeed be a blow to the country’s tourism industry.
Harare Municipality should therefore consider more permanent measures to eradicate the typhoid fever instead of undertaking cosmetic measures such as introducing vaccinations. A study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) titled “A study of typhoid fever in five Asian countries: Disease burden and implications for controls” noted that typhoid vaccinations have not been employed as a routine public health measure in most the typhoid-endemic countries.
In this regard, the Harare Municipality could only target typhoid-prone areas such as Mbare for vaccination while it dedicates itself to wholly improving its water supply situation to fight the disease. It is also disheartening that the city fathers appear oblivious to the importance of undertaking a preventive campaign against typhoid.
A clear public awareness campaign against typhoid using the media would go a long way in curbing the spread of the disease.
Residents should observe the following precautions: Drink treated water from safe sources Wash hands with soap before handling foodstuffs Eat fruits and vegetables that have been washed or peeled Eat food while hot Avoid touching the face with dirty hands The MDC-T city fathers should therefore reconsider the global vaccination programme and focus more on improving water and sewer treatment infrastructure.