My assignment today is to find a cholera kid – that is find a child above five that has cholera and whose guardian would allow me to talk to them in order to get a child’s perspective on this disease that has hit Zimbabwe.
My task may seem straightforward, since even today there are a hundreds of cholera cases around the country – over 93,000 total since the epidemic started. And, indeed, only shortly after my inquiry, Juliette, our MSF Head Nurse in Harare’s main Cholera Treatment Center, calls me to tell me that yes, there is a 10-year old kid that was admitted two days ago and I could see him since his guardian agreed.
When I arrive, Dennis refuses to open his eyes when Juliette addresses him. His grandmother, a handsome elderly lady with a crucifix hanging from her front gently shakes his shoulder. “He is pretending,” she says to us with a smile. “He thinks you will make him drink the ORS (Oral Rehydration Salts necessary for recovery).” Gogo (grandmother in Zimbabwean dialect) is about to try and rouse Dennis again, but I confer with Juliette and decide just to come back tomorrow.
Before I leave, I sit and talk with Gogo a bit, with the help of Juliette translating. Gogo lives in Mbare. This is one of the poorest high-density areas of the capital. It is dusty and dirty; it is where the bus terminal arrives from southern Zimbabwe and where also the whole-sale fruit and vegetable market is located. There are a number of three-storey overcrowded and derelict flats there which our watsan experts have already identified as highly unsanitary. I have already heard stories of sewage pipes burst and flowing into people’s apartments, while toilets are backed-up and completely infested.
Gogo, 69, lives in a small two-bedroom apartment with her two remaining children and nine grandchildren. I stumble on the word remaining and turn to Juliette. “How many children did she have?” I ask. Gogo answers the question matter-of-factly. “She had nine children in total; now only two are alive,” translates Juliette. I ask about their conditions of life. Gogo says there is no one with an income in the house so they rely on Catholic Relief for a monthly supply of basic food commodities.
Gogo’s daughter – Dennis’ mother – just two weeks ago gave birth to another child. That is why Gogo is at the hospital caring for Dennis; the mother is still at home with the newborn. I thank Gogo for chatting and she smiles and graciously inclines her head telling me “mazvita” – thank you.