Johannesburg - South Africa’s water challenges and dilapidated infrastructure could mean that cholera is here to stay.
This is according to Dr Patricks Voua Otomo, Head of the Ecotoxicology Research Laboratory and Subject Head: Zoology and Entomology in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the University of the Free State.
Dr Otomo said the recent cholera outbreaks in Gauteng and the Free State are a warning sign that the quality of the country’s water is questionable.
According to him, South Africa remains at risk of recurring and isolated outbreaks until the country’s failing water systems are addressed.
Otomo warned that the country’s wastewater treatment plants pose serious threats to the environment and human health as long as they are operating in poor to critical condition.
“Our water systems are connected, and in South Africa, one of our greatest challenges is poorly treated wastewater systems and highly polluted rivers. The current cholera outbreak isn’t happening in peculiar regions; it’s in areas where people consume questionable drinking water. The water we have is not of good quality, and people shouldn’t be consuming it,” he said.
Cholera, according to Dr Otomo, is one of the most vicious threats to public health and a sign of inequity because the bacteria may continue to flourish under the existing circumstances.
“All it takes to get cholera is a drop of contaminated water in your system to fall sick or even die. In a country like ours, where many people experience water scarcity and rely on unsanitary water sources, they are vulnerable to being easily exposed to bacterial diseases such as cholera.”
Although the current cholera outbreak may be decreasing, he cautions that if nothing changes, it won’t be long before it returns or other waterborne diseases cause devastation.
“We urgently need to address the failing infrastructure, improve the quality of our drinking water, and how water gets treated before being released into river streams, or we’ll remain at risk. Cholera is just one of many waterborne diseases. High E coli levels were found on our beaches just recently, which is an indicator of other bacteria present in the water. We are really in trouble.“