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Government Grapples with Root Causes as Cholera Cases Rise

The government is under scrutiny as Zambia grapples with a deteriorating cholera epidemic, drawing criticism for its management of the crisis and its inability to tackle the underlying issues leading to recurrent outbreaks. 

With the current outbreak spreading across 39 districts in 9 provinces, there are increasing demands for a thorough and sustainable strategy to address the persistent challenges the country faces in combatting cholera.

The Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection’s (JCTR) Executive Director, Fr. Alex Muyebe, highlighted the historical legacy and political challenges that contribute to Zambia’s struggle against cholera. 

The recently reported 8,276 cumulative cases and 333 deaths, with a Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of 4%, underscore the urgency of finding long-term solutions.

The root causes of the cholera epidemic are linked to poor water, sanitation, sewage, and drainage conditions in densely populated urban and peri-urban unplanned settlements. 

The historical choice of Lusaka as the capital city, built on impermeable limestone rock, exacerbates the difficulty of constructing proper infrastructure.

A six-year plan, the “Zambia Multisectoral Cholera Elimination Plan 2019‒2025,” published in 2018, aimed to comprehensively address the cholera issue. 

However, like previous plans, it has yet to be effectively implemented, leading to the current crisis.

Fr. Muyebe emphasized the need to address unplanned settlements, promote solid waste management and hygiene practices, and prioritize investments in Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH). 

The government’s recent announcement of not allowing new settlements without proper standards and its plan to build proper structures on the outskirts of Lusaka are steps toward decongesting high-risk areas.

However, critics argue that addressing rapid urbanization, promoting solid waste management, and improving hygiene practices are equally crucial. 

Fr. Muyebe urged the government to revive and implement the 2018 Multisectoral Cholera Elimination Plan, emphasizing the importance of political will and adequate funding.

Zambia’s struggle against cholera reflects a broader challenge of overcoming a colonial legacy and the need for decisive actions to prevent future outbreaks. 

As the government grapples with the current crisis, JCTR calls for sustained efforts, community engagement, and a coordinated multisectoral approach to eliminate cholera once and for all.

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