Govt bans church gatherings ahead Easther celebrations

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Information Minister Jenfan Muswere at the post-Cabinet briefing on Tuesday

By Talkmore Gandiwa

The government of Zimbabwe has banned church gatherings ahead of the Easter celebrations due to the continuous upsurge in cholera cases.

This decision comes after the government noted with concern that some churches continue to gather in places without safe water or sanitation facilities.

Zimbabwe has been battling to contain cholera outbreaks since July 2023. To date, a total of 29,144 suspected cholera cases have been recorded.

In a cabinet press briefing, Minister of Information Jenfan Muswere said the ban has been temporarily placed in line with cholera outbreak health regulations, mainly in the areas of hotspots.

“Cabinet further directed that, going forward, no church gatherings must take place until church leaders install solar-powered boreholes or bush pump boreholes as well as sanitation facilities,” said Muswere.

Additionally, Muswere stated that in light of the impending Easter Holidays, the government has directed the Ministry of Health and Child Care to intensify monitoring and supervision of all gatherings to minimize the spread of cholera.

President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa has since directed that solarized water facilities and boreholes should be installed to ensure the provision of safe water and sanitation at Karuyana Shrine among other sites.

“All gatherings must obtain prior clearance and should be supervised by health authorities,” added Muswere.

The government, through the Ministry of Health, continues to conduct integrated training in case management, surveillance, infection prevention and control, and social mobilization for Midlands, Masvingo, Mashonaland Central, and Mashonaland West Provinces to augment staff already trained.
Known hotspots are being targeted with community awareness campaigns and the deployment of oral rehydration points, as well as the establishment of cholera treatment camps.

Furthermore, the Ministry is working with the Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust in training Interfaith Leaders in Manicaland and Masvingo Provinces, with the objective to strengthen actions to address collaborative and collective initiatives in response to the cholera and polio outbreaks.

Zimbabwe’s sewage system, a relic of its colonial past, has struggled to cope with the country’s population growth, soaring from 3.7 million in 1960 to 17 million today. The lack of potable water in many areas, compounded by the stagnant economy, has provided fertile ground for cholera to spread rapidly.

In 2008, Zimbabwe experienced one of Africa’s deadliest cholera outbreaks, claiming the lives of around 4,000 people. The root causes mirrored today’s challenges: inadequate sanitation, scarce clean water, and a healthcare system in disarray due to the country’s hyperinflation crisis, which saw staggering rates of 79.6 billion percent monthly.

Over 15 years later, Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, finds itself grappling with another cholera crisis, with the highest concentration of new cases in the country. Nationwide infections are on the rise, but Harare bears the brunt, accounting for a third of total cases.

To combat the epidemic, Zimbabwean authorities have initiated vaccination campaigns. By February 12, the country had received 97% of the 2.3 million vaccine doses approved by the International Coordinating Group on Vaccine Provision (ICG), with more expected later in the month.

UNICEF reports that as of February 14, 67% of the target population, or 1.5 million people, had received an oral cholera vaccine dose.

In January, the health ministry launched Operation Chenesa Harare, translating to “clean up” in Shona, in response to residents resorting to makeshift dumping sites due to mounting garbage. The crisis highlights not only the immediate need for sanitation measures but also the importance of timely resource allocation to prevent such situations in the first place.

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