Zimbabwe restricts gatherings, food vending as cholera cases spike

Reuters News

A woman cleans a street in Harare, Zimbabwe, August 24, 2023. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

HARARE – Zimbabwe’s government has started restricting public gatherings and food vending, while monitoring burials in all areas affected by cholera, after cases of the disease spiked this week.

New cholera cases in the southern African country trebled from 437 to 1,259 this week, the biggest jump since the latest outbreak of the water-borne disease started in February. This has triggered panic in Zimbabwe, where more than 4,000 people died from cholera in 2008.

To date, the country has recorded 155 deaths linked to cholera from 8,787 cases, according to the health ministry. The authorities last week declared a state of emergency in the capital Harare, which has the highest number of new infections.

On Friday, residents in Harare’s low-income Kuwadzana suburb, where seven of the capital’s 13 cholera deaths were reported, complained about erratic supplies of clean water, uncollected garbage and raw sewage flowing in the streets.

Many residents have dug shallow wells to meet their household water needs.

“The water from the boreholes has also become contaminated. They are encouraging us to treat the water before drinking and to come to the hospital if we feel sick,” a visibly frail Bertha Rwizi said as she received treatment at Kuwadzana polyclinic, where the authorities have set up three emergency cholera treatment tents.

Health worker Mercy Chiweshe said clean water was key to treating cholera cases as well as preventing further infections.

“We are appealing for boreholes because the shortage of water is affecting us and for residents to maintain good hygiene,” she said.

Harare’s municipal authorities have been distributing water treatment tablets to residents as part of efforts to fight the diarrhoeal disease.

Advancements in digital technology helps improve healthcare access in South Africa


Image used for illustrative purpose. Getty Images

The Intercare Group has introduced innovative online healthcare services, uniquely integrating these with its established physical network of world-class primary care facilities.

Intercare has launched a unique online healthcare offering, fully integrated with its existing physical network of world-class primary care facilities. By offering on-demand, cost-effective care from anywhere, these services address many of the barriers South Africans face in accessing affordable, quality healthcare, including distance, time, and money.

Growth in consumption of online services

Online or e-commerce has seen exponential growth in South Africa, driven in part by improved access to the internet. According to Statista, active internet users grew to 43.48 million in January 2023, an 11% increase from 2022. Of these users, 38% consume online services.

The healthcare imperative for businesses

According to OCSA statistics, South African businesses report absenteeism rates higher than acceptable limits. Absenteeism costs the South African economy around R15bn annually, with over six million workers, or approximately 15% of the workforce, on sick leave on any given day.

Mental well-being in South Africa is declining, with 36% of individuals distressed or struggling, according to the Annual Mental State of the World Report 2021. Findings from the 2022 Employee Benefits Survey Report show that health benefits are vital for 87% of employees, making offerings an integral part of the employee value proposition.

Considering the growing gap between demand for care and what healthcare systems can supply, as well as changing employee expectations, businesses across all industries should invest in the health of their workforce by leveraging technology advancements, expanded access to connectivity, and scalable, affordable, and efficient delivery mechanisms.

Intercare’s online health services

“In structuring its online health services, Intercare has focused its capabilities around the most pressing needs of both employers and individuals. This includes helping to navigate the healthcare system by guiding when and where to seek care, integrating this with convenient, affordable alternatives to in-person care, and delivering services within this online environment that address priority health needs. In addition, it was important for Intercare to maximise the convenience, flexibility, and choice in how these services can be accessed,” says Hendri Hanekom, managing director, Intercare Group.

Guidance on when and where to seek care

The first interaction with the healthcare system is typically an in-person visit at a clinic or GP. While this may be appropriate, many common primary care complaints can be adequately managed through either self-care or online interaction with a health professional. By identifying and channeling such cases to an online care setting, the associated costs of in-person care to both employers and individuals in time and money can be significantly reduced.

Intercare offers an internationally recognised and accredited AI-based medical guidance platform which interviews individuals regarding their symptoms and risk factors and then advises on the most appropriate level of care, with an accuracy of over 93%. Recommendations include emergency care, in-person visits, online consultations, and self-care. The platform is web-based and accessible from anywhere on any internet-connected device.

Alternatives to in-person care

Using best-in-class technology, Intercare has established a virtual healthcare facility staffed by experienced healthcare professionals, facilitating online consultations. This secure and confidential service is accessible from any device with an internet connection and caters to chat-based, telephonic, and video interactions. Healthcare professionals can send patient documents within the chat, such as a script, sick note, or referral letter. This virtual facility can be accessed directly or via seamless integration with the medical guidance platform.

Services that address priority health needs

While the scope of Intercare’s online health services will continue to expand, Intercare has prioritised day-to-day primary care and mental health support services.

General Practitioners and Nurses deliver day-to-day primary care and cater to common everyday healthcare needs of adults and children, such as colds and flu, stomach bugs, bladder infections, and minor eye and skin conditions. Mental healthcare is delivered by registered counsellors and psychologists and is augmented by rich self-help and educational tools. The online mental health service can support individuals with processing trauma, grief, and bereavement, coping with anxiety and depression, managing adjustment difficulties, and developing resilience to stress and burnout.

Flexible access options

Convenience, flexibility, and choice have always been central to Intercare’s value proposition. The medical guidance platform is available 24/7, and the virtual healthcare facility offers extended operating hours seven days a week. In addition, on-demand services are offered, meaning an individual can access a health professional within minutes from anywhere. Various entry points are available, including direct integration with other platforms, SMS, or bespoke, white-labeled journeys. Health professionals within the online health facility can also remotely support on-site clinics, creating a hybrid care delivery model.

Intercare’s online health services represent an attractive value proposition for employers or other businesses looking to either establish a wellness offering or to enrich an existing one. For a solution tailored to your needs, contact us today.

South Africa’s Clicks posts 11.5% rise in full year earnings

Reuters News

A nurse walks in the pharmacy at the general hospital. Luc Gnago, Reuters image used in illustrative purpose
Reuters Images

South African pharmacy chain Clicks Group reported a 11.5% rise in full-year earnings on Thursday helped by stronger second-half turnover growth.

Clicks said its adjusted diluted headline earnings per share (HEPS) for the year ended Aug. 31 totalled 1,044.5 cents, up from 936.6 cents a year earlier.

Including insurance proceeds for damaged stores due to civil unrest, diluted HEPS grew by 1.1%, Clicks said.

Zimbabwe struggles to contain spread of cholera outbreak

The Zimbabwean

Health staff in attendance in a tent during a tour by Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa of the temporary cholera treatment camp at Glen View Poly Clinic September 19 2018 in Harare where the government has declared a state of emergency due to the out break of the deadly disease.

Zimbabwe has been struggling to contain spread of cholera outbreak, with the government announcing measures amid fears of a repeat of its 2008 outbreak that sparked a “national emergency”.

Cholera cases span all 10 of Zimbabwe’s provinces, with the most alarming spikes in the south-eastern provinces of Masvingo and Manicaland, the epicentre of the crisis.

Cholera outbreak has killed more than 100 people and infected 5,000 since February, according to government estimates.

To curb the spread, the government has imposed restrictions in vulnerable areas, limiting funerals to 50 people and forbidding attendees from shaking hands or serving food at the gatherings.

Authorities are also discouraging people from frequenting open-air markets, unlicensed vendors, or outdoor church camps where sanitation is scarce.

Cholera, a water-borne disease caused by ingesting contaminated food or water, often spreads quickly throughout Zimbabwe because of its poor sanitation infrastructure and limited clean water.

Many Zimbabweans, especially in remote villages, stay without tap water for months at a time, forcing them to draw from unsafe wells or rivers. Raw sewage spilling from busted pipes and heaps of lingering refuse increase the risk of the disease spreading.


Zimbabweans say their struggles to access clean water or water-purification supplies have recently intensified, putting them at greater risk of catching the disease.

“The cholera problem is not new. We’ve had it for a while but …There used to be health workers who would move around communities distributing water purification tablets that we could use to treat open wells. That isn’t happening anymore,” Answer Nyamukondiwa, a resident of Buhera, the hardest-hit city 250km (155 miles) away from the capital, told Al Jazeera TV.

Other residents lamented the deterioration of safe boreholes, which are narrow water wells that some 38 percent of the population relies on for water.

“We do not have enough boreholes,” one woman in the eastern town of Murambinda told Al Jazeera TV. “There is so much pressure on the few boreholes serving big villages. When these boreholes break down, people have no option [other] than to fetch water in the contaminated rivers. We need more boreholes. We are getting cholera when we drink contaminated water from the rivers.”

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa has acknowledged the country’s infrastructure shortcomings and announced plans to drill more boreholes for each of the country’s 35,000 villages in the next year.

Zimbabwe’s current cholera crisis is the worst since 2008, when some 4,000 civilians died in a nationwide outbreak that the government declared a “national emergency”.

Cholera is also a recurring problem in other nearby southern African states, including Malawi, South Africa, and Mozambique. Together, these countries and Zimbabwe have seen 1,000 of their citizens die from the disease since late 2022.

Mozambique reports bird flu outbreak on laying hen farm


Test tubes labelled “Bird Flu” and eggs are seen in this picture illustration, January 14, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo Acquire Licensing Rights

PARIS, Oct 19 (Reuters) – (This Oct. 19 story has been corrected to say H7 genotype, not H5N1, in paragraph 1 and also to clarify that the WOAH communication was on Thursday, not Tuesday, in the same paragraph)

Mozambique has reported an outbreak of highly pathogenic H7 avian influenza, commonly called bird flu, among poultry in the southern part of the country, the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) said on Thursday.

The bird flu outbreak was found on a farm of 54,207 laying hens aged between 23 and 30 weeks kept in a high biosecurity facility, the Paris-based body said, quoting information from Mozambique’s health authorities.

Neighbouring South Africa, a leading poultry producer on the continent, is currently grappling with a major bird flu outbreak that killed millions of chickens.

The spread of the highly contagious virus is raising concern among governments and the poultry industry after it ravaged flocks around the globe in the past years, disrupting supply, fueling food prices and posing a risk of human transmission.

After Covid-19 close shave, it’s time for Africa boost its healthcare

The East African

Defeating the COVID-19 concept. Getty Images Image used for illustrative purpose.

In an increasingly interconnected world, the strength of a nation’s health security and systems holds paramount importance. Nowhere is this truer than in the diverse, young, and energetic continent of Africa, where the need to fortify health security has become a pressing imperative.

It is widely acknowledged that adequate healthcare infrastructure is the backbone of a strong health system. This includes hospitals, clinics, laboratories, supply chains, manufacturing, and data management systems.

Improving healthcare in Africa is a moral imperative and a strategic opportunity. Africa can unlock its human potential, accelerate economic growth, and contribute to global security and stability by investing in health.

Moreover, by strengthening its health systems and capacities, Africa can better prepare for and respond to future health threats, including pandemics such as Covid-19, which posed an unprecedented challenge to the continent’s healthcare system, testing its capacity, resources, and resilience.

Read: Base technology for Africa on the best scienceUndoubtedly, the Covid-19 pandemic exposed the gaps and weaknesses in Africa’s health security, such as inadequate surveillance, testing, tracing, isolation, treatment, and vaccination. It also brought into focus unprecedented opportunities for change and growth.

As the continent grapples with existing health challenges and prepares for potential future crises, strengthening health security and systems has become not just an aspiration but a necessity.

Current disparities across countries include inadequate infrastructure, equipment, and supplies; shortage of skilled health workers; weak health information systems; low access and coverage; high out-of-pocket expenditures; insufficient domestic funding; weak governance and accountability; and frequent outbreaks and emergencies. These challenges hamper Africa’s ability to provide quality services to its population.

A multi-faceted approach is needed to address both immediate concerns and long-term systemic issues. For instance, domestic and international health financing is a vital pillar that catalyses infrastructure development, human resource expansion, supplies, and training. The challenge lies in aligning public and private financing for harmonisation and high impact.

Similarly, re-evaluating administrative and development finance structures, emphasising preventive and promotive care, and fostering collaborative coordination between state and non-state partners are crucial steps that should be emphasised.

One of the key areas that requires urgent attention is the development of resilient health information systems that can provide timely and accurate data for decision-making and resource allocation.

Read: GATES: Invest in Africa’s youthWith reliable data, monitoring health outcomes, tracking progress, identifying gaps, and responding to emerging threats is easier. Data also enables accountability and transparency, which are essential for building trust and confidence among stakeholders.

Another important aspect of strengthening health security and systems is promoting community engagement and empowerment.

Communities are not only beneficiaries of health services but also active agents of change who can contribute to health promotion, disease prevention, and outbreak response. Engaging communities in designing, implementing, and evaluating health interventions can enhance their ownership, participation, and satisfaction.

Moreover, empowering communities with knowledge, skills, and resources can enable them to demand and access quality services, protect their rights, and hold duty-bearers accountable.

Nevertheless, a robust health workforce becomes indispensable for effective healthcare delivery. Therefore, Africa must focus on training and retaining healthcare professionals, providing ongoing education, and creating incentives to work in underserved areas.

The growing brain-drain of skilled medical practitioners from Africa heading to other countries for greener pastures is a thorn that must be managed as it often undermines efforts by different African countries to be self-sufficient in terms of health human capital.

In a rapidly changing technological landscape, where virtually every sector relies on data, timely and accurate data is critical for making informed decisions within and outside Africa’s health systems.

Strengthening health information systems can enhance disease surveillance, resource allocation, and policy formulation. Additionally, digital health solutions can bridge geographical gaps and improve access to healthcare services, especially in remote regions.

At the same time, encouraging research and innovation within the healthcare sector can lead to disease prevention, diagnostics, and treatment breakthroughs. Collaborations between governments, academia, and the private sector can foster an environment where local solutions are developed to address Africa’s unique health challenges.

Read: WHO: Health workers’ exodus leaves Africa vulnerableLeveraging Africa’s demographic dividend, a youthful population will drive positive change. Investing in health education, promoting healthy lifestyles, and engaging the youth in healthcare advocacy can create a generation that benefits from improved health systems and actively contributes to their betterment.

Such deliberate health programming will fast-track Africa’s dream of achieving universal health care, shifting from our idea of curative services to that of buying medicine.

Minimising deaths, mainly caused by communicable diseases, road and transport accidents, and the lack of rescue and ambulatory services, is essential, reducing out-of-pocket health financing at the family unit. Turning these progressive and sustainable ideas into reality requires commitment, collaboration, and sustained effort from governments and international organisations.

Musundi is a development communication expert based in Nairobi, Kenya. 

Health Department unveils plan to introduce new vaccines: South Africa


Image used for illustrative purpose. Getty Images

In a bid to enhance the scope of available vaccines, the Department of Health is poised to incorporate new vaccines into the regular expanded immunisation programme, with an allocated budget of R3.5bn.
Health Minister, Joe Phaahla, made the announcement during a media briefing following a meeting with Health MECs held in Centurion on Thursday, 12 October.

Phaahla noted that South Africa continues to experience outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, despite a strong childhood vaccination programme.

He said there is an ongoing need to improve coverage of existing vaccines and add new vaccines to the expanded programme on the immunisation schedule.

The minister said the department is introducing a better packaged/derived vaccine that will prevent whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria and reduce the chances of these conditions resurfacing within the communities.

“We are also introducing a combination vaccine of measles and rubella that will protect young girls, particularly during pregnancy which may lead to birth defects,” Phaahla said.

He said all these changes, recommended by the ministerial-appointed National Advisory Group on Immunisation (Nagi), will be implemented with effect from January 2024.

Online birth registration expansion

The minister also announced that the Department of Home Affairs has made budget provision for the set-up and operational costs for the expansion of the Online Registration System by an additional 91 health facilities during the 2023/24 financial year.

This forms part of collaborative efforts between the departments of health and Home Affairs to ensure that all births are registered on time, through the Online Birth Registration system, which has been rolled out in 161 health facilities with the ability to issue birth certificates on the spot.

“These facilities will be allocated to full-time Home Affairs officials to provide birth registration service during office hours. The establishment of the system in these new facilities will commence by the end of October 2023. This initiative will go a long way in providing early birth registration,” Phaahla said.

Covid-19 vaccination service integration

Meanwhile, the minister announced that the department has decided to make a number of changes related to Covid-19 vaccinations, which include transitioning from a mass vaccination campaign to integrate vaccination into routine primary healthcare services.

This is in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations.

Phaahla said the current available Pfizer vaccine stock purchased as part of the Covid-19 national vaccination rollout will expire at the end of October 2023, while the J&J vaccine doses will expire at the end of February 2024.

The Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) will continue to record all Covid-19 vaccinations until 29 February 2024, thereafter those vaccinated will receive a paper-record of vaccination, but they will still be able to download vaccination certificates as long as they have at least one vaccination code.

“The department plans to procure vaccines for administration in the public sector and will continue to work with the private sector to facilitate availability of vaccines. All restrictions limiting procurement of vaccines by private-sector providers will be lifted,” Phaahla explained.

He added that the investigation and causality assessment of Covid-19 vaccination-related Adverse Events Following Immunisation (AEFIs) will continue and mechanisms for processing No Fault Compensation Scheme claims will be retained.

Phaahla also gave an update on various issues affecting the public health system, including cost-containment measures; audit outcomes and performance against targets; and medico-legal claims, among others.

Egypt, Swiss Novartis mull cooperation in healthcare areas

Arab Finance

Swiss drugmaker Novartis’ logo is seen at the company’s plant in the northern Swiss town of Stein, Switzerland October 23, 2017.
Reuters Images/Arnd Wiegmann

Egypt is probing boosting cooperation with the Swiss pharmaceutical firm Novartis in the areas of oncological, heart, and immunity diseases, as per a statement.

This came during a meeting between Chairman of Egypt Healthcare Authority (EHA) Ahmed El-Sobky and a delegation from the Swiss firm.

Both sides also discussed the possibility of training the EHA’s healthcare providers and medical staff as well as promoting Egypt’s healthcare investments.

Additionally, they focused on ways to raise the citizens’ awareness of heart and immunity diseases.

Dengue will ‘take off’ in southern Europe, US, Africa this decade, WHO scientist says

Reuters News

A child plays during a fumigation drive conducted by the municipal corporation as dengue cases surge in New Delhi, India, October 27, 2021. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

LONDON – Dengue fever will become a major threat in the southern United States, southern Europe and new parts of Africa this decade, the WHO’s chief scientist said, as warmer temperatures create the conditions for the mosquitoes carrying the infection to spread.

The illness has long been a scourge in much of Asia and Latin America, causing an estimated 20,000 deaths each year. Rates of the disease have already risen eight-fold globally since 2000, driven largely by climate change as well as the increased movement of people and urbanization.

Many cases go unrecorded, but in 2022 4.2 million cases were reported worldwide and public health officials have warned that near-record levels of transmission are expected this year. Bangladesh is currently experiencing its worst-ever outbreak, with more than 1,000 deaths.

“We need to talk much more proactively about dengue,” Jeremy Farrar, an infectious diseases specialist who joined the World Health Organization in May this year, told Reuters.

“We need to really prepare countries for how they will deal with the additional pressure that will come… in the future in many, many big cities.”

Farrar previously spent 18 years working in Vietnam on tropical diseases including dengue. He later headed up the Wellcome Trust global health charity and advised the UK government on its COVID-19 response before joining the WHO in May this year.

Farrar said the infection is likely to “take off” and become endemic in parts of the United States, Europe and Africa – all regions where there has already been some limited local transmission – as global warming makes new areas hospitable to the mosquitoes that spread it. That will put acute pressure on hospital systems in many countries, he warned.

“The clinical care is really intensive, it requires a high ratio of nurses to patients,” he said. “I really worry when this becomes a big issue in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Most people who get dengue do not have symptoms, meaning case rates are thought to be far higher than the reported numbers. Those who do can experience fever, muscle spasms and joint pain so severe it is known as “break-bone fever.” In severe cases – less than 1% – it can be fatal.

There is no specific treatment for dengue, although there is a vaccine available. Earlier this week, the WHO recommended Takeda Pharmaceuticals’ Qdenga vaccine for children aged 6 to 16 in areas where the infection is a significant public health problem.

Qdenga is also approved by the EU regulator, but Takeda withdrew its application in the United States earlier this year, citing data collection issues. Takeda said it was still in talks with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about the vaccine.

Preparing new regions of the world to deal with dengue means ensuring that any public health funds get spent in the right areas, Farrar said, including on the best way to control the mosquito.

Dengue is spread by infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which behave differently to the malaria-carrying kind. For example, they bite people indoors, and they bite all day rather than overnight. They also breed in very shallow water.

Farrar said proper prevention would include triaging plans for hospitals as well as scientific innovation alongside other key factors, such as urban planning, to avoid areas of standing water near or in houses.

“We need to combine different sectors that are not used to working together,” he said.

Keep up with the latest medical breakthroughs and healthcare trends with our newsletter Reuters Health Rounds. Sign up here.

WHO recommends malaria vaccine, roll out in early 2024 in some African countries

Reuters News

A health agent prepares an anti-malaria injection at Marcory General Hospital in Abidjan, Ivory Coast October 7, 2021. Luc Gnago, Reuters Image used for illustrative purpose.

GENEVA – The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended on Monday the use of a second malaria vaccine to curb the life-threatening disease spread to humans by some mosquitoes.

“Almost exactly two years ago, W.H.O. recommended the broad use of the world’s first malaria vaccine called RTS,S,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a briefing in Geneva.

“Today, it gives me great pleasure to announce that WHO is recommending a second vaccine called R21/Matrix-M to prevent malaria in children at risk of the disease.”

R21/Matrix-M, developed by Britain’s University of Oxford, will be rolled out in some African countries in early 2024 and available mid-2024 in other countries, Tedros said, adding that doses would cost between $2 and $4.