Who is our Typhoid Mary?

Shamiso Yikoniko
Very few people in Zimbabwe may know of Typhoid Mary.

Maybe those who follow Marvel Comics, which in recent years has reinvented itself through a string of superhero movies, will know of a Typoid Mary who is an adversary of Daredevil.

The name comes from a lady called Mary Mallon, who was born in Ireland in the 19th century and moved to the United States at the age of 15 where she became a cook.

Mallon was the first person to be medically proven to be an asymptomatic carrier of the pathogen associated with typhoid fever.The records say she infected scores of people with typhoid, 22 of whom died; and because she was an asymptomatic carrier, she herself never fell sick to the diease and instead just passed it along.

Up to the present, the colloquial term Typhoid Mary is used to refer to anyone who wittingly or unwittingly spreads disease or any other undesirable thing.Throughout her life, Mallon did not believe she carried typhoid, and felt the authorities were persecuting her when they isolated her for public health purposes.

Typhoid Mary was to spend the last 30 years of her life quarantined, still in denial but thankfully not spreading a disease that Zimbabwe is battling to contain today following a heavy summer rainfall season.

An outbreak of typhoid has so far affected more than 1 900 people, resulting in five deaths across the country between January 1 and March 30, 2017.

A surveillance report from the Health and Child Care Ministry indicates that 1 934 suspected typhoid cases have been recorded, and 59 of these have been confirmed.

So where is the Typhoid Mary who is spreading this disease so wantonly?The Health Ministry’s Director of Epidemiology and Disease Control, Dr Portia Manangazira, fingered inconsistent water supplies as the major cause of typhoid.

“We have been talking for a long time now that water must be supplied to the people if we are to combat typhoid as a country, but it seems our calls are falling on deaf ears,” said Dr Manangazira.

“The moment adequate water isn’t supplied, it becomes difficult to maintain personal hygiene, to cook healthy food and everything else that has to do with water. At the end of the end of the day, water-borne diseases become rampant.

”So are our local authorities our very own Typhoid Marys?

Harare Residents Trust chairperson Mr Precious Shumba certainly thinks so.“The Harare Water and City Health departments are definitely sleeping on duty. The councilors and the respective departments aren’t actively engaging the situation to ensure that the health and sanitation is taken care of,” said Mr Shumba.

“At the same time residents as consumers of municipal services are paying for refuse collection and sewerage as well as water consumption yet they are being sold a dummy.

“The City of Harare remains top heavy with managers in grades one to four taking the bulk of the revenue through hefty, unreasonable and unjustified salaries and allowances. They have proven repeatedly that they are insensitive, unprofessional and lack the basic understanding of their mandates as public officials, living off the ratepayers’ money.”

The capital city needs US$1,6 billion to effectively supply water.Typhoid is a bacterial, water-borne disease transmitted by ingestion of food or water contaminated with faeces of an infected person.

This happens in conditions of poor sanitation and poor supply of clean water.

Data from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency show that over 30 percent of Zimbabweans do not have access to clean and safe water, as sanitation facilities.The Public Health Act stipulates that every person requires at least 20 litres a day.Harare City director of health Dr Prosper Chonzi said the increase in water-borne diseases was evidence of poor sanitation.

“All provinces are warned to be wary of the impending surge of water-borne diseases.“The moment adequate water isn’t supplied; it becomes difficult to maintain personal hygiene, to cook healthy food and everything else that has to do with water. At the end of the day, diarrhoeal diseases become rampant.”

The 2013 National Water Policy says the goal is to achieve sustainable use of water resources to achieve equity in access to freshwater by all Zimbabweans.

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