The 2008 Cholera Outbreak: Solutions For Zimbabwe
In 2008, Zimbabwe suffered the most devastating cholera outbreak in the country’s history. When the country’s president downplayed the presence of the disease, thousands of people died. If President Mugabe had acknowledged that there was indeed an outbreak and welcomed international agencies to come in and help, the situation would have been saved. This essay discusses the international agencies that would have helped deal with the outbreak. The essay also presents an argument for the implementation of global health law in the future, in case such a case ever happens again.
In the year 2008, Zimbabwe hit the headlines again for all the wrong reasons. Thousands of people were suffering from cholera in the worst ever outbreak to have occurred in the country. Owing to slow responsiveness of the Zimbabwean government, thousands of people were killed by cholera. More than for thousand people had died by March 2009 (Waterkeyn and Matimati, 2009). The World Health Organization has through numerous efforts been able to contain the recurring cholera outbreaks that have affected the African nation since the 1990s (WHO, 2008).
Description and Assessment
It is worthwhile noting that the World Health Organization in close collaboration with other organizations such as UNICEF, Plan International has been pivotal in helping Zimbabwe to control cholera. Despite such a noble cause, the Zimbabwean government being headed by President Mugabe has made it difficult for these international organizations to continue their work. The Zimbabwean president was quick to deny the presence of the 2008 cholera outbreak and he even went ahead to denounce the efforts of the World Health Organization and the international community to try and save the situation in his country. President Mugabe purported that the international community had no interest in helping his country (Naafs, nd).
Citing the high number casualties emanating from the 2008 cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, we cannot underestimate the need for more concerted efforts from all stakeholders regardless of affiliation to ensure that such a situation never recurs. It is known that the outbreak’s root cause was the state’s neglect of major water supply entities, leading to the public’s consumption of contaminated water (Waterkeyn and Matimati, 2009). According to Waterkeyn and Matimati, the urban water supply together with garbage collection and sanitation had been totally neglected.
In the backdrop of this, it is necessary that efforts be made to integrate into existing policies, laws that will govern the Zimbabwean health sector in a bid to prevent such an outbreak in the future. If adopted, the laws will not only address the possibility of cholera outbreaks but also many other health challenges that have crippled the country’s health sector. Those tasked to ensure the implementing of such laws should however be well informed of the way the current regime in Zimbabwe operates. President Mugabe’s government is one that won’t welcome radical change to the already set status quo and hence the whole process should be carefully structured to suit certain key characteristics of Mugabe-style policies.
I am of the idea that the power of global health law should be carefully exerted on Zimbabwe to mitigate the current state of the health of Zimbabweans, focusing on immediate and long term results. According to Taylor and Gostin (2008), the main purpose of global health law is to ensure that all people everywhere in the world get to enjoy the highest achievable level of health, both physically and mentally. Taylor and Gostin go forth to stress that this can only be achieved by the coordination between governments, international organizations, the civil society, charitable and private organizations.
Global health law purposes to ensure that all countries are able to provide the needs for basic survival to their citizens. This is through the creation and proper governance of operational health systems, supply of clean water, sanitation and access to quality medicines and vaccines. Zimbabwe obviously needs a revamped health sector but the government has failed to see the fruition of it and it is the high time that global health law be enforced, with the help of all the players recommended.
Some of the recommended key players should include World Health Organization, UNICEF, and International Finance Facility for Immunization. The World Health Organization, through the International Health Regulations has already set out regulations for all member states to follow. These regulations are aimed at ensuring a country is responsible for the health of its citizens by preventing, responding to and reporting health risks to the World Health Organization. The International Health Regulations contributed to the formation of the program called Integration Disease Surveillance in Africa (WHO, 2017). If the interaction between the two is focused on Zimbabwe, then the future will be bright in terms of mitigation of other outbreaks. UNICEF also comes into play especially citing the amount of help it offered children during the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe.
UNICEF is especially involved in providing young children with nutritional supplements while also helping those in floods prone areas with proper sanitation and clean water (UNICEF, 2015). Also, the children whose parents died in the 2008 outbreak benefitted from psychological support from UNICEF. The International Finance Facility for Immunization has a good reputation in its efforts especially through Gavi to provide donations towards vaccinations (Gavi, 2017). Such efforts can be directed towards the vaccination against cholera in a bid to save the future of Zimbabwe. With South Africa being one of the donors of the International Finance Facility for Immunization, it can continuously lobby for more and more donations to her close neighbor.
At times, governments have expressed concerns when international agencies have their way into their countries’ affairs. This means that even the above mentioned agencies might not find it easy in Zimbabwe. It is therefore important that the advantages of having these agencies being at work in Zimbabwe be highlighted. Having international agencies such as the ones discussed above means that the government will spend lesser in mitigation costs as opposed to the higher cost it would have incurred in procuring medications or chemicals to disinfect water. When some of these agencies have begun work in the country, they will usually stay longer even after the outbreak or other concerns are over, hence providing cushion against other unforeseen situations. Disadvantages for the government are very few but key among them is that sometimes with international agencies addressing some issue in the country, the real problem might appear blown out of proportion and sometimes portraying the government unable to meet its responsibilities.
These agencies should work closely with the Zimbabwean government to ensure minimal friction while bringing forth substantive gains for the country’s citizens. It is however a reality that these agencies would still face some challenges while seeking to be on the same page with the government. As such, it would totally be right to consider the
Since global health law cannot meet its purpose effectively without the help of multinational treaties, it should be the focus of African countries to prioritize health concerns of citizens in high risk countries. I would recommend that African nations, more so those situated around Zimbabwe, to come together in a concerted effort to enforce existing global health laws in assisting Zimbabwe. This would be a wise move since the regime in Zimbabwe will be least suspicious of her neighbors.
The United Nations, in consultation with the World Health Organization should also formulate a law that tasks countries with the responsibility of creating regional health organizations that will tackle health challenges that commonly face them. If such a law was in place before the 2008 cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, the casualties that spread from 2008 through to 2009 would have been suppressed since a health organization formed by African countries in the southern region would have moved in to save the situation.
The 2008 cholera outbreak is a lesson that Zimbabwe and other countries learnt. Though it has surfaced that many lives would have been saved had the government admitted its inability to handle the situation, it remains that the country can learn from their mistake and provide environment for the intervention of international agencies to do their work. With already existing global health laws, there should be no reason that people should perish in disease just because their leaders neglect some responsibilities. These laws should be enforced and those who break them should be made to face necessary consequences.
Gavi (2017). International Finance Facility for Immunisation: Flexible financing provides funds when needed. Available online: http://www.gavi.org/funding/iffim/. Accessed 13th February 2017
Naafs J. (nd). Cholera in Zimbabwe: Kept quiet, not solved. Utrecht.
Taylor A. and Gostin L. (2008). Global Health Law: A Definition and Grand Challenges. Public Health Ethics (1) 53–63.
UNICEF (2015). Mozambique 2015 Flood & Cholera Update. UNICEF Mozambique
Waterkeyn J. and Matimati R. (2009). Scaling up the Community Health Club Modelto meet the MDGs for Sanitation in rural and urban areas: Case Studies from Zimbabwe and Uganda. International Water Association Conference, Mexico City
WHO (2017). International Health Regulations (IHR). Available online: http://www.who.int/topics/international_health_regulations/en/. Accessed 13th February 2017