THE closure of 30 schools following the outbreak of typhoid in Lusaka is a very sad development.
It is sad because preventative measures could have been taken in good time. It is most unfortunate that the situation was allowed to deteriorate to the level where such drastic action had to be taken.
The fact that hundreds of pupils have been sent home means that they will miss out on crucial study time and we doubt whether the affected schools will complete their syllabi before the situation is ameliorated.
These measures are however necessary because typhoid is an infectious disease that could have devastating effect on a community.
Typhoid is an acute illness associated with fever caused by the Salmonella typhi. Since the bacteria are deposited in water or food by a human carrier and are then spread to other people, provision of clean drinking water, better sanitation, and better hand-washing is necessary.
Since there is already an outbreak the Government has very few choices. The first is to ensure that the predisposing influences are quickly eliminated by ensuring that sanitation facilities are dealt with at the earliest opportunity. This will require that both Central Government and the constitutency development funds are employed to facilitate the provision of clean water and institution of measures to remove waste in a manner that will totally eliminate any opportunity of vestors sprading the disease.
The second possibility would be to vaccinate the entire endangered population against the disease.
We doubt whether we have the necessary resources for this type of exercise which may involve an entire community. The cost woukd be horrendous and logistics almost impossible considering the nature of our environment which incorporates many unplanned settlements that are totally oblivious to sanitation and sanitary measures.
Thirdly, both Government and local authorities must learn from this experience and introduce measures to prevent the recurrence of such communicable diseases. It is important that the planning of some of our towns is looked at with a view of upgrading some townships to avoid diseases such as typhoid which has broken out in Kanyama leading to the death of two pupils and the closure of 30 schools.
The greatest tragedy in Lusaka is the existence of shanty townships which bear all the hallmarks of pre-independence Zambia. These are bereft of social and sanitary amenities and exist more by wit than by planning, a situation that has been allowed to exist side by side with the bludgeoning modern metropolis of Lusaka.
There is no justification for the City of Lusaka or any other town to harbour such inferior structures such as those obtaining in Kanyama and other shanties dotted around Lusaka. There is no excuse for this serious social, political and health imbalance.
An outbreak of typhoid does not affect the unplanned settlements alone it threatens the entire city because of the close community interaction.
Unless the structures are for historical purposes, communities without proper sanitation should not be allowed to stand.
We understand upgrading of townships is an expensive venture but it is even more expensive to allow substandard structures to pass for houses and schools as the disease burden resulting from poor sanitation exert pressure on limited Government resources when it comes to treatment of patients.
Therefore, the closure of 30 schools by the Lusaka City Council because of poor sanitation should compel school authorities to work on providing better sanitation for the city in general while indeed concentrating for the immediate on the most affected parts of the city.
It is is not possible that all the 30 schools could all at once suddenly have malfunctioning toilets in a small community such as Kanyama. The malaise must have existed without any particular attention from health inspectors and the authorities responsible for community health care.
Our take is that schools are not inspected purely on account of poor work ethics and dereliction of duty. These schools are probably inspected before the official opening ceremonies and are thereafter left to their own devices.
We say this because if the council was regularly inspecting the schools, they could have noticed that some of schools had poor sanitation and corrective measures could have been taken.
The health department of the Lusaka City Council should pull up their socks and take up their responsibilities with seriousness and dedication.