28 November 2008
South Africa has undertaken to help to Zimbabweans who cross the border seeking treatment following an outbreak of cholera in both countries.
Briefing journalists in Pretoria on Wednesday, Health Minister Barbara Hogan said that while South Africa was under pressure to respond to its own health problems, the country was obliged to assist its neighbour.
“We will not look down on people suffering in Zimbabwe,” Hogan said. “These are people who need our help … Under no circumstance would we want to stop people who are sick and in need of treatment from entering the country.”
South Africa’s health system could cope with the extra burden, the minister added. “I do not think the scale of the problem is large enough to stretch our resources.”
Zimbabweans crossing the border for treatment would not be considered illegal, Hogan said, as they were neighbours and part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
South Africa has partnered with Doctors without Borders to ensure that supplies such as water treatment tablets, treatment tents, latex gloves, body bags, IV sets and other products not available in Zimbabwe are sourced.
As of 26 November, 8 887 suspected cholera cases and 366 deaths had been reported in Zimbabwe.
South Africa’s Limpopo provincial health department has reported an increase in the number of acute diarrhoea cases since 15 November, with one death occurring on 16 November.
Other affected provinces in South Africa are Gauteng, with nine cases and six suspected cases of cholera, KwaZulu-Natal with one confirmed case, Mpumalanga with one suspected case, and the Western Cape with one suspected case.
South Africa’s health department deployed its national and provincial outbreak response teams in Musina on 17 November.
Three treatment tents had been set up, staffed and stocked to deal with the outbreak, and additional doctors, nurses, epidemiologist and public health specialists had been sent to the border town.
“Structures are in place and functional additional supplies are being provided, education and communication material is being distributed, treatment centres have been established, and potable water is being provided in some areas,” Hogan said.
She noted that there should also be a focus on helping Zimbabweans to access clean water and repair sanitation plants.
Travellers to and from the Beitbridge area who suspect that they have contracted cholera should note that, after prevention, the best control measures were early detection and effective treatment of the disease.
“Recognition of the ‘rice water stools’ of a suspected cholera case is very important,” Hogan said.
“Cholera should be suspected when any person develops a sudden onset of three or more watery stools after being in an area where there is an outbreak of cholera, or … develops severe dehydration from acute watery diarrhoea (usually with vomiting).”
Where cholera is suspected, patients are urged to drink oral rehydration solution – which can be made by adding 8 teaspoons of sugar and half a teaspoon of salt to one litre of safe water – and to seek medical help immediately.