OPUWO – The drought contributed greatly to the cholera outbreak in the Kunene Region. This is according to the Chief for Maternal, Child Survival and Development of the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) Dr Myo Zin Nyunt.
Nyunt says Unicef has been anticipating cholera in the Kunene Region before the outbreak, because people in that region have been drinking unclean water due to the drought and based on the agency’s experience a cholera outbreak in that region was highly likely. Apart from the fact that there appears to be a dormant cholera virus in that region, other challenges that make the Kunene Region more prone to cholera, include the lack of sanitation; the drying up of wells and boreholes and the general lack of hygiene. Some of the areas where people live in the region are also not accessible by road.
Nyunt explained that most people in that region still use the bush to relieve themselves and this contributes immensely to poor hygiene. The fact that the region has not received rain in a while and that boreholes and wells have dried up has forced many people in the region to consume unclean water. “I understand that there is an area in Etanga where people drink water from a well, but even animals got sick from consuming that water,” said Nyunt. The Etanga area where most of the cases of this water borne disease are coming from lies about 100 km from Opuwo. The majority of the people in that area are from the Ovahimba tribe, which still opts to live a nomadic lifestyle making it virtually impossible to construct fixed and decent housing infrastructure for them.
According to Nyunt there is a need to educate communities such as the Ovahimba about the dangers that go with poor hygiene, and there is a need to rehabilitate water infrastructure in the region. In the meantime through the Project Corporation Agreement with Unicef, volunteers from the Red Cross Society of Namibia have joined forces to educate communities in that region, distributing water purification tablets and jerry cans, as well as setting up tents for the victims at Etanga and Opuwo. There is also high surveillance activity over the Ohangwena and Kavango East and West regions, as well as the Zambezi Region according to Nyunt. “The most important is to prevent this [cholera outbreak] from recurring in the near future,” said Nyunt. Meanwhile, cases of patients admitted due to cholera at health facilities in the Kunene Region have dropped drastically leaving the total number of admissions at 17 people. By Saturday afternoon only 12 patients were being treated in tents at the Opuwo District Hospital, while another five were admitted to the hospital wards, while two were being treated at the Etanga Clinic. This is in comparison to 111 patients who were admitted on suspicion of cholera by Thursday last week.
Last week the Ministry of Health and Social Services deployed health officials to the Kunene Region to help with the outbreak. A health official at Opuwo however told New Era that the deployed nurses arrived when the worst was already over. “Last week was the worst, last Saturday [January 04] we admitted 60 people on suspicion of cholera and there were only two doctors then,” said a medic speaking on condition of anonymity.