Tragedy behind the cholera statistics
FOR the Mangwarire family of Glen View 8, Harare, September 8 will forever be etched in their minds. The fateful day, which started like any other normal Saturday, ended in sorrow as they unexpectedly lost a husband, father, son and brother.
Regerai Mangwarire (45) ran a small business around Glen View 8 Complex where hundreds others ply their carpentry trade.
That morning, Mangwarire as usual left his family home in seemingly good health, but as soon as he arrived at the complex he complained to his friends of what sounded like cholera symptoms — body weakness, vomiting and diarrhoea.
As the day progressed, Mangwarire’s condition worsened, his friends notified the family and rushed him to Parirenyatwa Hospital, and later to Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases Hospital, commonly known as Nazareth.
Upon receiving cholera-related medication, he was sent back home, looking and feeling better.
“When we left the hospital, the vomiting and diarrhoea had stopped and we thought he was getting better,” said Dorothy Thandi (39), wife to the late Mangwarire. “We even prepared him a meal when we got home and he ate it.”
But that same night, tragedy stuck, his health deteriorated and he passed on.
Mangwarire was a father to four children aged 20, 17, eight and four, who solely depended on him.
His untimely departure has left them grounded.
Although the two older children could understand what was happening and were in tears, the other two played innocently in the backyard, maybe hoping their father would return home from work.
Mangwarire’s widow, Dorothy, who is unemployed, told The Herald that her husband’s death had drastically changed the family’s future, especially for the children who are still in school.
“I don’t know what the future holds for me and the children, but as I speak, I don’t have a plan,” she said. “I don’t know how I will pay rent, school fees or buy food and clothing.
“My husband was the breadwinner and now that he is gone the children may stop going to school.”
Dorothy wept as she collapsed into her mother-in-law Beauty Mangwarire’s arms, while she consoled her.
After a few minutes of comforting each other, Beauty wore a brave face, but still expressed pain as she explained how her son was buried.
Under normal circumstances, she would have loved to bury her son among his other relatives in a graveyard at their rural home in Rusape.
She was not allowed to view the body of her son, neither was she permitted to transport him to their rural home for burial because of health stipulations for all cholera victims.
“I am hurt that I have lost my son,” said Beauty. “I am more pained by the fact that I did not have the chance to bid farewell to him as per our traditions.
“I am troubled. We buried him like an outcast. I would have wanted my son to be laid to rest in Rusape, but the situation forced us to bury him at Granville Cemetery.
“I don’t even know if I buried my real son or someone else’s and that thought will haunt me forever.”
All this pain was triggered by cholera, an acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.
On this day, tragedy did not visit the Mangwarire family alone, but a number of families in Glen View and Budiriro.
About a kilometre from Mangwarire’s lodgings in Glen View 3, another family was also left bereft.
At around 1am on Saturday, Simudzirai Group of Schools headmaster, Mr Rodwell Samukange (70), also started complaining of stomach pains.
By dawn, he was experiencing diarrhoea, vomiting and other cholera-like symptoms.
He was rushed to Glen View Polyclinic where he received medication and was sent back home.
During the day, the vomiting and diarrhoea had stopped, but around midnight the situation worsened and he died.
He was buried at Zororo Memorial Park with the help of health officials.
Samukange’s cousin, Henry Marota, told The Herald that although the burial was conducted in such a manner, the family still didn’t know if he succumbed to cholera as no formal word was communicated from the hospital.
“I can’t say that he died of cholera as we were not sure, but the hospitals suspected it was, so we just followed all the necessary precautions,” said Marota, who is now the headmaster at the school.
“We were left devastated by his death, nobody thought he would die. We were so positive that he would get better, but it all happened so fast.”
Samukange is survived by a wife and eight children.
As a precautionary measure, Simukirai Group of Schools suspended classes after the incident until the dust settles.
The Mangwarire and Samukange families are just two of the 25 families who have lost their loved ones over the week to cholera.
Following the cholera outbreak, two boreholes were decommissioned in Budiriro after tests confirmed they were contaminated with the bacteria that causes the disease.
Unfortunately, families have already consumed the water.
Raw sewage continues to flow down the streets, leaving people more vulnerable to cholera.
Piles of uncollected decaying rubbish form mountains everywhere.
Residents have blasted the city officials and blamed their laxity for the loss of lives.
A livid Glen View 3 resident, who is also a director at Simudzirai Group of Schools, Godfrey Matsa, called on the Government to deal with the Harare City Council and make them accountable for the lives lost.
“Can we go on like this?” he said. “Can we continue to normalise the abnormal?” The council is not doing enough and even up to this day they don’t have a meaningful solution to the problems at hand.
“We cannot access water regularly even though the council is fully aware of the collapsed sewer infrastructure in this area. What does that mean?”
Matsa said the Harare City Council should prioritise people’s health by responding to reports on time before they become disasters.
“We have made several complaints over burst sewage pipes, lack of water and uncollected garbage, but the council said they don’t have machinery, equipment and manpower to attend to the problem,” he said.
“Now that there is a disaster they are flocking in. Where did the machinery come from now?”
Health experts say it is sad that lives were lost to cholera, a disease that is preventable if sanitation is improved, and curable if reported in time.
This loss could have been prevented, lives saved and families spared from grief.
In just a week, 3 766 suspected cholera cases were reported in Harare and Chitungwiza alone.
Many families felt the impact of the non-discriminatory cholera which took innocent lives, young and old, including two pupils from Glen View 5 Primary School.
Many times, deaths that come as a result of tragedies like cholera are compressed into statistics, but beyond the numbers, families have lost vital cogs and cherished relatives.
BEREAVED . . . Dorothy Thandi with three of her four children. Her husband, Regerai Mangwarire, succumbed to cholera