Zimbabwe’s Cholera Outbreak Puts HIV-Positive People At Risk, Health Officials Say
People living with HIV/AIDS are especially vulnerable to contracting cholera in Zimbabwe, which currently is experiencing an outbreak of the waterborne illness, Stanley Takaona, Deputy President of the Zimbabwe HIV/AIDS Activist Union, said recently, IRIN/PlusNews reports. HIV-positive people with weakened immune systems have a more difficult time recovering from cholera and are at an increased risk of the illness, according to Takaona. He said, "This disease leaves people completely wasted; it is very hard for many [HIV-positive people] to recover," adding that other people living with HIV/AIDS "have not been so lucky, but documenting deaths in this section of the population is a major challenge for us." Douglas Gwatidzo, chair of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, said that the outbreak also has taken away attention from the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country, which, according to UNICEF, causes more than 400 adult deaths daily.
According to Tsitsi Singizi, a UNICEF communications officer, there is a lack of knowledge about cholera's specific symptoms, which has led some HIV-positive people to come to cholera treatment centers, mistaking diarrhea -- a common HIV-related opportunistic infection -- for cholera symptoms. As a result, many people living with the virus have been exposed to cholera. Singizi said, "UNICEF and its partners are doing the best they can to ensure that our treatment centers stay as clean as possible, so that the next person seeking treatment does not pick up infection."
IRIN/PlusNews reports that the cholera outbreak has been especially detrimental in Harare and other cities, where water cuts, poor garbage collection and unrepaired sewage systems are blamed for the illness' spread. Medecins Sans Frontieres reports that at least 1.4 million people are at risk of contracting cholera if the outbreak is not brought under control through improved sanitary conditions. The United Nations on Wednesday estimated that the cholera outbreak has resulted in 746 deaths, but other health groups estimate that the actual figure is much higher (IRIN/PlusNews, 12/10).