Deadly diarrhoea outbreak claims children’s lives

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  • 3192 cases reported
  • 11 Children have lost their lives so far
  • Private Doctors blame government for failing to sensitize public on seriousness of disease
  • Hospitals full of children admitted for diarrhoea
  • Batswana are taking it lightly

Chedza Mmolawa

The Ministry of Health and Wellness is being accused of concealing vital public information by private medical practitioners. Speaking to The Botswana Gazette off the record out of fear of government pushback, medical practitioners have raised concern over the increasing number of patients with diarrhoea and the delayed government response.
A medical practitioner says that the institution in which he works is concerned that the ministry is not being transparent on the fatalities from the diarrhoea outbreak that has now claimed lives of 11 children across the country. They say first the government does not want to reveal specific statistics as to exactly how many children are affected and how many have lost their lives. In a Press Release issued by the Ministry a week ago, the Ministry did not reveal that the disease is contagious and can quickly become fatal when combined with the onset of the summer heat, laments the doctor.
The Botswana Gazette had the opportunity to witness the impact of the outbreak first hand at one of Gaborone’s biggest private hospitals. At around 1am last Wednesday night, the emergency room at the private hospital was packed to the rafters with small children under and just above the age of 5 being admitted for symptoms of diarrhoea. Some were vomiting while some suffered from running stomachs. One of the doctors at the hospital agreed to give an anonymous interview to The Botswana Gazette.
“The government is really failing the nation, they are concealing vital information that could help contain this outbreak. We have realized that many people are unaware of the seriousness of this diarrhoea. Batswana are taking it lightly. Many do not even know that this outbreak is highly contagious, we have realized that most of the patients we admit contract it from schools. Like I said I blame the government for failing Batswana. I implore parents to carefully monitor their children and engage schools help contain this outbreak. I even believe that the real statistics are being concealed and that more children are infected by the outbreak than the government is willing to reveal,” he said.
The Botswana Gazette also managed to talk to the Public Relations officer of Mahalapye District Hospital where a majority of deaths has been recorded. Head of PR at Mahalapye District hospital Pauline Bontle revealed that since September 3rd, they had received 31 cases of diarrhoea and have registered 6 deaths. Two weeks later the Ministry of Health and Wellness sent out a press release warning the public on the diarrhea outbreak. In that report no casualty had been recorded in contrast to the report The Botswana Gazette received from Mahalapye PR office.
“We have 377 kids in the district affected by the diarrhea. At Mahalapye District hospital the first case was reported on week 36 (first week of September 2018). Most affected kids are the under 5 children, and Mahalapye DHMT reported 6 cases of deaths so far. The tests that are being done show that this diarrhoea is caused by a rota virus,” said Bontle. According to reports some of the children died at Mahalapye Primary Hospital while others died on their way to Nyangabgwe Referral Hospital in Francistown.
Rotavirus is the most common cause of inflammation of the stomach and intestines (gastroenteritis), leading to severe diarrhea in infants and children throughout the world. Rotavirus infects most unvaccinated children by age 3. There are different strains of rotavirus, and multiple infections by different strains may occur. Rotavirus causes the following symptoms and signs: Fever, Vomiting and Watery diarrhoea. Rotavirus-related symptoms can lead to severe and life-threatening dehydration. Rotavirus infection is highly contagious. The incubation period is typically about two days.
Bontle said at this point they are doing all they can to strengthen health education at all their health facilities in the district to ensure that parents practice good hygiene at all times. She added that they have employed other communication channels to ensure the community respond to contain the outbreak.
“The public should ensure they bring their kids to health facilities immediately they present with either vomiting or diarrhea. They should always have the oral rehydration salts (ORS) and Zinc sulphate at their homes and ensure that they know how to prepare the ORS to give to kids if they start vomiting or having diarrhoea. The public is also advised to practice good hygiene practices like staying in a clean environment, hand washing and giving children fresh food at all times,” she said.
When The Botswana Gazette called the Ministry’s Public Relations Head, Doreen Motshegwa she said she is neither in a position to give detailed statistics nor was she able to provide further information as the ministry was still compiling its findings on the outbreak. Motshegwe referred the reporter to the press release issued by the ministry a week ago which indicates that until the past week a total of 3192 cases were recorded making this year’s outbreak the highest recorded over the last five years.
The press statement states that as of the 19th September, a total number of reported diarrhea cases the Mahalapye area with 592, Bobirwa 511, Gaborone 485 cases, Boteti 435, Ngami 250, Kweneng East 232, Francistown 205, Selebi-Phikwe 221, Tonota 193, and Chobe 68 cases, and has resulted in 11 deaths.