Dr. Fred M’membe, President of the Opposition Socialist Party in Zambia, has issued an appeal to President Hakainde Hichilema, urging the declaration of a public health emergency in response to the escalating cholera outbreak in Lusaka and other regions. Dr. M’membe’s statement, marked by urgency and concern, comes at a juncture as the nation grapples with the ramifications of the cholera epidemic on its healthcare system.
Dr. M’membe highlighted the severe strain the cholera outbreak has placed on the country’s healthcare infrastructure. In his words, “The health staff is overstretched. The infrastructure is inadequate, and medical supplies are not enough.” This pointed critique by Dr. M’membe leaves little room for misinterpretation: the situation is dire and necessitates immediate action.
The core of Dr. M’membe’s argument revolves around invoking sections 36 and 37 of the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) Act. This action, he asserts, would empower President Hichilema to mobilize military resources for a civil emergency of this nature. “It has been done before during the 2017/18 cholera outbreak,” Dr. M’membe reminded, highlighting the precedent for such measures. He also emphasized that this provision would unlock additional resources from the treasury, crucial for tackling the emergency effectively.
Dr. M’membe stressed the importance of the government’s decision-making in prompting international and local partners to assist. “This is the provision that moves the international community and cooperating partners to assist in mobilizing resources to support the cause,” he stated, indicating the pivotal role of government action in securing external support.
In addition to Dr. M’membe’s statements, the former Health Minister of Zambia also contributed a detailed plan to combat the cholera outbreak. He suggested that the nation is confronted with a ferocious public health enemy and the death toll is unacceptably high. “Let’s step up cholera interventions!” he urged, commiserating with families who lost loved ones and saluting the fallen nurse warrior who succumbed at the frontline.
The former Minister emphasized enhancing evidence-informed leadership and coordination of a multi-sectoral response, triggering and strengthening epidemic preparedness and response committees at national and subnational levels, and activating emergency response systems through the Zambia National Public Health Institute. He also recommended thoroughly defining the epidemic, mapping epicenters and potential hotspots, and identifying factors fueling it.
An essential part of the plan involved stepping up health promotion activities to sensitize the public on personal and collective measures to avoid contracting cholera. “All media and communication platforms need to be engaged,” he insisted. He also called for escalating upstream interventions to address the disease’s determinants and upscaling community-level interventions to halt new infections.
The former Minister’s recommendations also included engaging partners to procure cholera vaccines for mass vaccination in all hotspots, discouraging overcrowding and public gatherings for cholera victims’ funerals, and improving case management to deal with the caseload and stop the deaths. He also underlined the need for enhancing laboratory investigations, training and deploying adequate human capital for community-based public health interventions, and issuing statutory instruments to identify adequate infrastructure to treat patients.
He concluded, “Unity of purpose is cardinal,” emphasizing the need for enhanced leadership for a coordinated multi-sectoral response to stop this ferocious assault on Zambia’s public health security.