UPND's Plans to Politicize Cholera Outbreak Heightened – Lusaka Times

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A WOMAN receiving a cholera vaccine in Lusaka’s Chawama township

By Sunday Chanda

We can confirm that UPND is not letting go of its agenda to politicize the Cholera outbreak, and now plans to launch a “Cholera Committee” when it is public knowledge that Government is coordinating responses in conjunction with other co-operating partners as part of a multi-pronged and multi-sectoral strategy. The UPND Cholera Committee and its proposed actions are schemes by the Opposition party to politicize the Cholera outbreak and “water-down” Government led multi-sectoral strategies.

1. A very brief history of cholera in Zambia

The pattern of cholera outbreaks in Zambia over the past decades has always been the same – with Lusaka usually being the epicentre. From history, cholera has always been limited in terms of time, place and person. For any outbreaks globally – including the current cholera outbreak in Zambia – the first thing to do is to implement disease “containment measures”, namely: isolation of patients and quarantine, and the full package of related health strategies to curb the spread of the disease.

Responsibly, the PF government has effectively led these “containment measures” in line with global best practices for handling cholera and related outbreaks. Therefore, UPND’s attacks on Government’s sound “disease containment measures” are both irresponsible and pathetic.

Against this background, we wonder what UPND seeks to achieve by creating a parallel and highly politicized committee at this stage. Indeed, it is this sought of desperation that Zambians have continued to reject because it smells of sheer opportunism without due regard to those infected, affected, and the deceased. Truth be told, it is immoral for UPND to seek political mileage from the sore backs of Zambians “infected, affected and killed” by the current cholera outbreak.

Therefore, we wish to call on the UPND leadership to abandon their intended Cholera Committee and, (a) engage in some soul searching to understand that politics have their place and it’s not now; (b) support Government’s “containment measures” which are being implemented to prevent, control and cure cholera countrywide.

2. A key ingredient to fighting epidemics including cholera outbreaks

One of the reasons why the Ebola outbreak was most deadly in West Africa in recent history was because certain opportunistic and/or ignorant people encouraged entire communities to doubt medical interventions being led by their respective governments. As a result, communities started fighting against the very measures designed to save their lives. Unfortunately, this lack of trust in Government fed to the people by opportunistic individuals led to thousands of preventable deaths in West Africa.

The current cholera epidemic is a tragedy which calls for the rest of the Country to pull together by putting aside twisted partisan agendas; and encourage communities to trust and abide by current “disease containment measures” being led by the government. Precious lives have been lost and everyone is affected, and morality demands that all manner of politics is set aside.

3. Other lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa

Epidemics such as Ebola, cholera and others require stronger coordination among disease “prevention”, “control” and “care”.

Because of the above-mentioned lessons, the PF government has been implementing:

(a)  stronger integration of cholera “prevention”, “control”, and “care” including assisting bereaved families with safer burials.

(These are solemn moments which UPND should not, and must not, politicize).

(b) stronger incident Reporting, Surveillance and Adequate Resourcing in Lusaka, Copperbelt and nationwide.

Perhaps, UPND know the full extent of these government measures currently underway? But why their noise? Perhaps UPND cannot help but be mischievous and seek political mileage anywhere. Or perhaps we give UPND a benefit of the doubt that they do not know about these government efforts currently underway? If that is the case, then UPND will only misinform and mislead its base and the national at large.

4. The Bio-Social Perspective to disease

The PF government is alive to the fact that all diseases have a biological and a social aspect to it. This is the reason why President Lungu stated while visiting Heroes stadium that “government continues to work towards efforts to provide safe drinking water to all Zambians everywhere”. It is these efforts which UPND must commend and support if they are truly a genuine party which cares about the welfare of the masses in Zambia.

In this regard, the UPND leadership must also be ashamed and apologize to the Zambian people for allowing their symbol-raising and sloganeering cadres to disrupt public peace on a matter that affects everyone irrespective of their political affiliation. Zambians must remind the UPND that the Country cannot prioritize cheap politics over public health.

Patriotic Front was founded by the son of a cook and he knew what suffering felt like. Today, Patriotic Front is led by a son of a marketeer and he understands the plight of the marketeers more than the elitist UPND leadership because he can relate. As such, the Patriotic Front leadership would be the last one to neglect traders. We Government takes such containment measures, these are aimed at strengthening “prevention, control and care” strategies needed to combat epidemics, in this case, cholera.

By implementing strict “containment measures”, PF respects and cares for public life and public health. Similarly, by campaigning against and politicizing government’s “disease containment measures” the UPND leadership neither cares for nor respects the lives of Zambians.

As PF, we therefore refuse to politicize ongoing interventions on Cholera prevention, control and cure. Patriotic Front remains proactive in engaging relevant ministries and monitoring the Cholera situation. It is the aim of the PF government to eradicate Cholera from our communities and consign it to the past, never to return. However, this also requires that other players including the UPND be more responsible and stop politicizing disease outbreaks, and stop misleading Zambians. This trust, and not division, in communities will enable these necessary “containment measures” to yield desired results and consign cholera to the past – never to return.

The ruling Party is committed to seeing that hygiene improves in our towns and communities, as well as that all displaced vendors – majority of whom are PF – have alternative trading places as soon as it is no longer a health risk for the people. We continue to assure our people that the measures taken so far are meant to protect them and their loved ones. Let us therefore continue to work together to address the current outbreak, and make future cholera outbreaks very unlikely.

The Author is the Ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party in Zambia’s Media Director