Listen to Heron Holloway complete her series of podcasts from her journey to Zimbabwe.
[Note: Heron refers to cholera as a virus but it is vibrio.]
Heron: This is part three of our three-part series on Zimbabwe. You can download parts one and two from our website at redcross.org.uk/podcasts.
So it’s the end of day four of my trip. We headed into a new province the Midlands province which is also one of the three provinces identified by the Red Cross as needing their support most.
The first thing that we did when we got to Midlands is that we went to see the White Waters dam that provides 30 per cent of the water for the Gweru district. Gweru town is just about 20km down the road from White Waters dam and has a population of about 180,000 people. So we came to White Waters dam basically due the break down in infrastructure and the lack of spare parts.
The water treatment centre here at the dam essentially is not able to keep up to its full capacity and, as a result, people in Gweru are having to turn to unsafe sources of water. In order to put a preventative measure in place to make sure there aren’t outbreaks of Cholera in Gweru, the German Red Cross have assisted by putting in four flocculation tanks. These are tanks that are in addition to the existing infrastructure that’s already here but to make sure that it can work at full capacity and that people don’t feel forced to go elsewhere to find unsafe drinking water or water to cook with.
The Zimbabwe Red Cross will look after them once the emergency response team from the German Red Cross have gone and they will monitor and keep up with the maintenance of them to ensure that they keep going.
So after being at White Waters dam, we drove on and went to a village called C just outside Gweru. C village is a place where the British Red Cross have been doing some hygiene awareness programmes.
So we went and visited a lady called Agnes Banda. She’s 58, she’s a grandmother to a very extended family, she’s looking after six orphan grandchildren as well. We went to visit her house which is where – a couple of days earlier – the British Red Cross emergency response team had helped put up a rapid latrine. That is a latrine that can be put up very quickly with very simple material and, just to emphasise the importance, as part of a training programme to talk about simple steps to ensuring hygiene practices and making sure that there aren’t any outbreaks in this area.
Agnes Banda was chosen, her household was chosen in conjunction with the Red Cross talking to the head man and the village health worker about who was the most vulnerable person in the village. So Agnes was chosen because not only is she very old but she is also looking after an extended family and is responsible for their well-being.
The British Red Cross came here, about 50 people from the village were around as part of this training programme and the building of this latrine so they saw how easy it was. There were also discussions about alternative materials that can be used because the general impression is that toilets require concrete and that they are hard to do and it outs people off.
So the latrine has to be 1.5 metres deep and then they constructed this demonstration toilet just near Agnes’ house. Agnes said that as a result of the Red Cross coming here she knows that she will not go to the toilet in the bush where potentially when the rain comes it can wash excrement over the ground into people’s wells and other sources of water.
There is a river not too far from here about 400m away which is where Agnes goes three times a day to collect her water but also when the rains start that would overflow and water spread over the ground. So to make sure that cholera isn’t being spread around, it is absolutely crucial that people use toilets and use them in the correct way to contain the spread of the virus.
The British Red Cross has also been working in the Gweru district around the same ideas of hygiene promotion by providing both the ministry of health and cholera treatment centres with the equipment needed to sterilise and disinfect houses, so as soon as they hear there has been a cholera outbreak in a particular area, Zimbabwe Red Cross volunteers are sent out with these packs on their backs with disinfectant and sprays. They way the work is: when a particular household has been infected they will spray a very large circle and spray and move in until the whole area has been disinfected to try and help stop this spread of the cholera virus so that it doesn’t affect more people.
There was a case recently where a lady had come back from Beitbridge, where she had been visiting over Christmas. She came back to Gweru district, she threw a party when she was back here, loads of people came to the party and then loads of people started getting ill.
She’d actually had cholera when she was in Beitbridge, been to a cholera treatment centre and treated and although she herself probably hadn’t passed on the virus she brought with her groceries from Beitbridge which were then fed to people at the party. So, it went from being a very isolated case to over 30 people being affected, two of which died, including her sister. So this is an example of how virulent the virus is and just how much it needs to be checked instantly and better still prevented in the first place.
Today was my sixth and final full day in Zimbabwe. I go back to Harare first thing tomorrow morning. Today we went back to Zvishavane to go back to see the cholera treatment centre that had been put up yesterday and also go and see a training course taking place.
The training course was put on by the British Red Cross and the Norwegian Red Cross for about 40 Zimbabwe Red Cross volunteers. Many of them have been Zimbabwe Red Cross volunteers for many years and do a lot of home based rural care work but they were just going to this training course to get a refresher on cholera awareness and to go through the basic steps that can happen in villages and homes across communities in Zimbabwe; the simple steps that can be taken to make sure the disease doesn’t spread and also the basic things to do when the symptoms do display ahead of getting professional medical attention.
So I sat in on that training course today and they are very passionate volunteers. As soon as the training course was over, I accompanied a group of four volunteers down to the local bus depot which is where everyone gathers on their way in and out so there are lots of vendors and people milling about there. [The volunteers] started speaking to people who were at the bus station about cholera. They brought with them demonstration bits of kit and showed examples of ways that you could make yourself a tap, a vessel with which to wash your hands and soap on a rope so that you don’t recontaminate by touching it after you’ve washed your hands and therefore potentially spreading cholera.
It was really interesting because there was an obvious real desire by the people at the bus station, a real thirst for knowledge.