7 January 2009
South Africa’s Department of Health has heightened its awareness campaign around the spread of cholera as visitors and foreign nationals return from their December holidays in neighbouring countries.
This follows a cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe which has left more than 1 500 people dead and seen a number of cholera cases in two of South Africa’s nine provinces.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), some 1 518 people have died of the disease and 26 497 cases have been recorded since August, when the outbreak occurred.
Department spokesperson Fidel Hadebe said on Tuesday that to curb the spread of cholera in South Africa, treatment guidelines had been distributed to all the country’s provinces to empower healthcare workers to deal with suspected and confirmed cholera cases.
“Environmental health officers have also been deployed in all high-risk areas to educate members of the public about cholera and how to avoid it,” Hadebe said. “These high-risk areas are largely areas with poor sanitation and low toilet coverage, exposing residents to increased risks of exposure to cholera.”
During a reportback meeting of the government’s National Outbreak Committee on Monday, it emerged that the number of cholera cases in South Africa to date were confined largely to the Limpopo and Gauteng provinces.
Based on the epidemiological data, Limpopo still has the highest case load, followed by Gauteng with 21 confirmed cases.
In other provinces, isolated suspected cases have been reported, and the health authorities in those provinces are conducting tests aimed at determining the true situation.
The department has appealed to members of the public not to panic, saying the cholera outbreak is under control. The public have been urged to follow basic hygiene measures, like washing their hands after visits to toilets, and washing fruit and vegetables before eating them.
For people who may be in high-risk areas, it is still advisable to boil water before using it, Hadebe said.