HARARE, Jan. 25 — Some cultural and religious practices are
contributing to the spread of cholera in Zimbabwe, with the only cases
reported so far this year attributed to a funeral in a mining town,
To date, four people have died and 32 other suspected cases have been
reported, two of which have been confirmed. When an 80-year-old woman died
from cholera on Jan. 8 in Chegutu, 100 km southwest of Harare, three
relatives did a washout of her intestines according to religious rituals.
The three also contracted the disease and died, and the same rituals were
conducted on two of them without protection, said Mashonaland West
provincial medical director Wenceslaus Nyamayaro. Minister of Health and
Child Welfare David Parirenyatwa said this week that although authorities
could not establish where Mungulisia had contracted cholera, all the
recorded cases were linked to her funeral.
Traditionally, Zimbabweans greet each other by shaking hands — a practice
that is more pronounced during funerals when mourners console each other.
In Shona culture, paying condolences is known as kubata maoko, which
literally means to hold hands. “Let’s avoid big gatherings during
outbreaks such as these ones. Let’s not shake hands at these gatherings or
funerals,” Parirenyatwa said. “In the event of death in the community due
to cholera, this should be supervised by health workers.” Some people are
now using clenched fists to greet each other but many still find it odd to
do so and end up risking with the open palms.
Parirenyatwa said all the country’s provinces have been put on high alert
for cholera and active surveillance, including contact tracing in Harare
and other areas of people who attended the Chegutu funerals. He urged
people to refrain from eating food at funeral gatherings, something which
Zimbabweans also find hard to do because traditionally people should eat
the food that is prepared at such gatherings, or else no one would eat the
food they prepare if there are deaths at their own homes. In rural areas,
people slaughter cattle and goats at funerals, which are at times prepared
under poor hygienic conditions, exposing mourners to diseases during times
of outbreaks. Zimbabwe still bears the scars of a serious cholera outbreak
from August 2008 to July 2009, which killed at least 4,288 people. – XINHUA