MBARE A TICKING HEALTH BOMB AS TYPHOID RAGES ON | It’s a Thursday afternoon in Mbare, at Matapi Flats.The scorching heat seems not to have deterred activity at the ever busy neighbourhood.
Garbage and raw sewer greets you as you approach the area, evidence of what seems to be a rather overpopulated area.As you get inside the block of flats, a choking stench from blocked communal toilets and overflowing days-old faecal, rules supreme.
It is the norm here.This is the same place where 17 cases of typhoid were reported this week.
While authorities have set up a 24-hour clinic to manage patients, the same conditions and environment that over the years have exposed residents to waterborne diseases still prevails.
The oldest township in the country has now become the epicentre of typhoid outbreak. Poor sanitation services and lack of access to portable water, squalid conditions have over the years created a breeding ground for a disease outbreak. Typhoid fever is a disease spread by food and water contaminated by faecal matter.
In an interview with H-Metro, Mbare residents expressed concern that the Government and city fathers only ‘respond’ to their plight when deaths or typhoid cases are reported in the area, leaving them to live in an environment that predisposes them to waterborne diseases.
“This is what we are exposed to everyday and it is just by God’s grace that we do not have disease out breaks every day. You really have not seen anything because the council is trying to clean the area since typhoid cases were reported.
“The communal toilets that we use are always blocked and sometimes it takes days before they are flushed,” said a vegetable vendor who lives in one of the blocks.
Oblivious of the typhoid risk and other water borne diseases, the vegetable vendor’s child is seen crawling next to the flowing raw sewer following her other siblings who are playing around the area.
“I live in one of the rooms in this block which I share with another family; we have used a curtain to demarcate space for the two families.
“My children have nowhere to play so this is the only open space where they can play. I pray every day that God protects them from diseases because we are greatly exposed in this area,” added the vendor.
Another resident at the flat only identified as mai Gamu says she fears a worse situation given the deteriorating conditions at the flats which are now overpopulated.
“The flats are just overpopulated and the number does not tally with the capacity of the outdated sewer system. The toilets are always blocked and sometimes you have raw sewer flawing on our passages.
“It is by God’s grace that we have not perished from diseases like cholera and typhoid. The communal toilets are so dirty and as you have seen, faeces are all over the area,” said Mai Gamu as she showed this reporter one of the communal toilets that had faecal matter all over the place.
A community health worker who has been tasked to distribute water guards to residents for purifying water in the area adds that the environment in Mbare was ripe for a worse outbreak than what has ever been witnessed over the years.
“I’m distributing water guards to residents in this area so that they can access clean water but the situation needs just the purification of water. As you have seen, those dirty toilets are exposing them to waterborne diseases.
“Uncollected garbage is found at every corner and this is a breeding space for flies. As the rain season begins soon, this is a serious time bomb,” says the community health worker.
Another resident however blamed the Mbare community for littering the area adding that some residents disposed garbage through the window.
“While the council has let us down by failing to collect garbage on time, residents are also to blame. They have a tendency of disposing litter through windows and this heap of garbage is a result of that.
“Residents need to know that they are responsible for their own health, and by littering the area, they are not helping this situation. You have also seen the mess in the toilets and who do we blame for that. All this creates a breeding ground for diseases.”
Residents are appealing to the city fathers, Government and donor partners to refurbish the ablution facilities in the area to avoid the persistent blockage and leaking of sewer in the area.
They argue that while they appreciate the response of setting up a 24-hour clinic in the area, this would not help much as long as the deteriorating conditions are not addressed.
“The sewer system is very old and cannot sustain this population anymore. Raw sewage is everywhere is this area and as long as that is not dealt with, we can brace for a worse situation, come rain season.
“The toilets are in such a mess and this rapid response is not enough as long as the environment that makes people sick is still the same,” argues another resident.
The cholera outbreak that killed more than 4 000 people between 2008 and 2009 and left another 100 000 hospitalised still haunts residents in this area as they fear that the continuous deterioration of the environment was a ticking bomb for a worse situation.
Conditions that allowed cholera to flourish that time are exactly the same today and a gigantic health time bomb is looming, according to the residents.
The risk of another cholera outbreak remains high, especially with no concrete, sustainable solutions in sight as well as erratic response mechanisms.