- Southern Africa
Zimbabwe: Swine flu hits amid fears of renewed cholera infections as doctors strike
The deadly swine flue has hit Zimbabwe amid fears the epidemic could wreck havoc in the troubled country where public doctors have been on strike for two weeks now. This comes at a time when memories of a recent cholera epidemic still remain fresh. According to the MSF, the cholera epidemic is "definitely not over" yet.
Health minister Henry Madzorera told journalists that five children at a privately run Hillcrest primary school in Mutare city near the border with Mozambique had been diagnosed with the virus. The ages of the children ranged from five to 10 years.
Madzorera, himself a trained medical doctor, said the cases were first detected earlier this month, that is about three weeks ago, and health experts had been carrying out tests to determine whether the disease was in fact swine flu. "An outbreak of pandemic influenza A (H1N1) occurred in Mutare at a private school in early August," Madzorera said at a press conference.
"The national Virology lab scientist have been conducting investigations, which included a total of 27 rapid tests, five of which tested positive for influenza A... Samples were also forwarded for confirmatory tests for pandemic influenza A (H1N1), and all five came back positive”
Madzorera assured Zimbabweans that the government working in conjunction with the World Health Organisation and the University of Zimbabwe put in place well coordinated plan to combat the disease. The health minister said the government had stockpiled drugs at all key hospitals in cities and across the country, adding that the strike by doctors had not closed down hospitals because about 70 percent of doctors were reporting for duty.
“A national pandemic influenza preparedness and response plan has been developed to give guidance on the coordination, case management including laboratory support, surveillance, logistics and public health measures at the port of entry," he said.
Doctors at major hospitals in Harare and the second largest city of Bulawayo began boycotting work two weeks ago pressing the cash-strapped government for more pay.
The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association that represents all state doctors wants them paid a salary of US$1 000 per month plus $500 allowance compared to the US$170 that they earn now.
Meanwhile, officials from Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and UN have warned of a highly possible return of cholera in the southern African country. In an interview published on the MSF website, Rian van de Braak indicated that the root cause of the disease, namely, dilapidated water and sewage systems, had not been adequately dealt with. The "threat is definitely not over" she said, predicting that the epidemic could return with the next rainy season.
The swine flu outbreak comes at a time when about 4000 deaths due to cholera are still fresh on the minds of Zimbabweans.