Government must intensify cholera awareness and vaccination campaigns in communities: CWGH

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Community Working Group on Health (CWGH)

The Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) would like to urge communities across the country to embrace the ongoing government-driven cholera vaccination campaign to protect people from the deadly disease which has already claimed hundreds of lives in the country.

The government recently launched a campaign aimed at immunizing over 2 million people against the water-borne disease, amid an outbreak that has killed over 500 people and infected at least 20,000 others since last year. Vaccination does not only protect the one vaccinated but it also prevents the spreading of the diseases to other people in the community. The disease is spread by contaminated food or water and spreads faster in crowded areas with poor sanitation facilities.

However, although the campaign is a noble idea it is a short-term measure as it uses the Euvichol-Plus vaccine, which is administered orally and protects against cholera infections for at least six months. This then calls for the government to find a lasting solution to the problem, which has frequently occurred in the country in the past decade.

The vaccines that the country received from donors will make a difference but are inadequate given the high intensity of the disease that has already spread all over the country, with a population of 15 million people. There is therefore need to avail more vaccines to enable the country to achieve herd immunity so that all communities can be protected.

CWGH would like to make it clear that vaccination alone will not stop future outbreaks and therefore we urge the government to prioritise the provision of sustainable water and sanitation services, starting with hotspot areas in both rural and urban areas. People need access to potable water, standard accommodation, and the provision of hygienic living conditions to avoid the spread of diseases like cholera, typhoid, measles, and diarrhea.

While we applaud the government for putting preventative measures such as restricting public gatherings and food vending and monitoring burials in cholera-affected areas, we feel such measures must be complemented by empowering communities with accurate information on the causes, symptoms, prevention, and treatment measures. There is a need for the holding of awareness campaigns across the country to ensure no one is left behind.

It should be pointed out that water, sanitation, and hygiene efforts are much more effective when people are aware of the risks as well as what they can do to prevent illness. In addition, those in high-risk areas need to know what to do if they or their family members become ill with cholera. Hygiene promotion efforts should be coordinated and multi-sectoral with the communities taking centre-stage. It is a total abdication of duty by the government to leave communities relying on unprotected shallow wells for drinking water while some urban areas go for months without running water in their homes.

Government should therefore urgently strengthen its surveillance, control, and management procedures to avoid an explosion of the disease in other areas. This also calls on the government to roll out serious awareness and vaccination campaigns countrywide, including engaging leaders of health objectors including religious groups

It is only through reaching out to religious leaders, who command a lot of respect and influence among their congregants that the majority of their followers can agree to get vaccinated against the disease. Informative messages and materials should be printed and distributed so that community members who are at risk can access them.

It is inexcusable that, in this day and age, people continue to die from cholera and other preventable diseases that should have been eradicated decades ago.

The Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) is a network of national membership-based civil society and community-based organisations that aim to collectively enhance community participation in health in Zimbabwe.