Zimbabwe launches vaccine drive amid cholera outbreak

A child receives oral cholera vaccination in Zimbabwe. Photo by: WHO Africa

ABIDJAN — A cholera vaccination campaign was launched in Zimbabwe last week, targeting 1.4 million people in the nation’s capital of Harare and in rural areas in an effort to reverse an ongoing outbreak that has so far claimed almost 50 lives.

Vaccines were taken from the global stockpile and operational costs have been funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, for the campaign, which focuses on the four high-density Harare suburbs most affected by the outbreak, including the epicenters of Glenview and Budiriro.

The vaccination drive will continue through Tuesday at fixed and mobile health facilities, schools and shopping centers. More than 600 health workers have been trained to carry out the campaign under the leadership of the Zimbabwe Ministry of Health and Child Care.

Push to contain Zimbabwe cholera outbreak ahead of rainy season

A decade since Zimbabwe's worst cholera outbreak, the water-borne disease has reappeared, exposing the country's rundown infrastructure.

To ensure long-term immunity to the disease, “a second phase [of the campaign] should follow in the next six months targeting a population of 900,000 covering eight suburbs in Harare and three [suburbs] in other districts,” a Gavi spokesperson told Devex.

The introduction of a cholera vaccine reinforces other efforts to reduce the impact of this waterborne, diarrheal disease since the outbreak began on Sept. 1 . More than 5,000 households have been equipped with hygiene kits which include water treatment tablets, a bar of soap, and education materials on how to treat and store water safely, along with information on improving personal and household hygiene.

In addition, more than 100,000 people have been reached with messaging on cholera prevention and management, according to the latest UNICEF situation report

To date, 8,435 cases and 49 deaths have been reported in Harare and in 15 additional districts that have recorded sporadic cases. The gravity of the outbreak remains centralized in the capital, where 98 percent of suspected and confirmed cases have been reported.

The government and local health partners have implemented citywide measures in Harare to help minimize transmission, such as the closing of street food vendors and the banning of large gatherings. However, infrastructure concerns — such as interruptions to water supplies and inadequate access to treated water — coupled with poor hygiene practices could exacerbate the outbreak.

Cholera is endemic in Zimbabwe, but experts hope that various control measures will keep the outbreak from reaching the peak that was seen in 2008 when more than 100,000 people were infected and 4,000 died from the disease.

About the author

  • Christin Roby

    Christin Roby worked as the West Africa Correspondent for Devex, covering global development trends, health, technology, and policy. Before relocating to West Africa, Christin spent several years working in local newsrooms and earned her master of science in videography and global affairs reporting from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Her informed insight into the region stems from her diverse coverage of more than a dozen African nations.