Zambia is reeling from a major cholera outbreak that has killed more than 400 people and infected more than 10,000, leading the government to order schools across the country to remain shut after the end-of-year holidays.
A large soccer stadium in the capital city has been converted into a treatment facility.
The Zambian government said it is embarking on a mass vaccination program and providing clean water of about 2.4 million litres a day to communities that are affected across the southern African nation.
The National Disaster Management Agency has been mobilized.
The outbreak in Zambia began in October and 412 people have died and 10,413 cases have been recorded, according to the latest count on Wednesday from the Zambia Public Health Institute, the government body that deals with health emergencies.
The Health Ministry said cholera has been detected in nearly half of the country’s districts and nine out of 10 provinces, and the nation of about 20 million people has been recording more than 400 cases a day.
“This outbreak continues to pose a threat to the health security of the nation,” Health Minister Sylvia Masebo said, outlining it was a nationwide problem.
The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, called the fatality rate of around 4% in the three-month outbreak “a devastatingly high number.” When treated, cholera typically has a death rate of less than 1%.
UNICEF said, there have been recent cholera outbreaks in other southern African nations including Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. More than 200,000 cases and over 3,000 deaths have been reported in southern Africa since the start of 2023.
More than half of 229 of the victims in the Zambian outbreak died before being admitted to a health facility, the public health institute said.
Zambia has had several major cholera outbreaks since the 1970s but this one is the worst for 20 years in terms of the caseload, according to Dr. Mazyanga Mazaba, the director of public health policy and communication at the Public Health Institute.
Heavy rains and flash flooding in Zambia have converted some neighbourhoods into soggy or waterlogged areas.
The Zambian government announced in early January that schools — which were meant to open for the year on Jan. 8 — will only open on Jan. 29. Parents and children were urged to make use of education programs on public TV and radio, a situation that had echoes of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The education minister ordered schools to be cleaned and inspected.
Zambia’s Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit was mobilized and it was delivering large water tanks and trucking in clean water to some neighbourhoods daily. Granulated chlorine to treat water was also being provided, it said.
The majority of cases are in the capital, Lusaka, where a 60,000-seat national soccer stadium has been converted into a treatment centre and is dealing with around 500 patients at any one time, the health minister said.
She said Zambia had received around 1.4 million doses of the oral cholera vaccine from the WHO and expected more than 200,000 more to arrive soon. Zambian government officials, including Masebo, took a vaccine publicly to encourage others to also do so.