Student in Zambia falls ill with Cholera, sent to soccer stadium turned treatment center

When we arrived at Matero Hospital, I heard the constant sound of the wailing sirens of ambulances. They brought in a steady stream of patients and took others out for burial after succumbing to the virus.

  • 3 weeks ago
  • May 1, 2024
5 min read
Dirty areas like this, in Barlestone, Zambia, proliferate the spread of Cholera which leads to outbreaks. | Photo courtesy of Pepertua Rojasi Dirty areas like this, in Barlestone, Zambia, proliferate the spread of Cholera which leads to outbreaks. | Photo courtesy of Pepertua Rojasi
Elton Takunda Kasawala is a student in Zimbabwe who contracted cholera during the 2023-2024 outbreak. | Photo courtesy of Elton Takunda Kasawala
Elton Takunda Kasawala studies at Eden University in Lusaka Zambia. He suffered a bout of diarrhea and vomiting before he was taken to Matero Hospital where they confirmed he had cholera. He was later transferred to the Heroes stadium, normally a venue for soccer matches, where he went into quarantine. He stayed there for two weeks consuming only milk, bananas, and water before he recovered.
The cholera outbreak in Zambia, which was first reported in October 2023 in the peri-urban areas of the Lusaka Province, quickly spread throughout the country. All ten provinces in Zambia have now been affected. Since the onset of the current outbreak, the country has reported a total of 14,900 suspected cholera cases and 560 cholera-related deaths of January 26, 2024. Lusaka continues to represent the most affected province, reporting 89 percent of all suspected cholera cases and 90 of deaths. The most affected age group are those between 25 and 35 years of age. This public health emergency is not restricted to Zambia, as many countries throughout Africa have reported an increase in cholera cases. Since January 2023, approximately 188,000 cholera cases have been reported in eight countries in Southern Africa including six countries with current active outbreaks: Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Find more information at the Global Alliance Against Cholera and Other Water Bourne Illnesses.

BALASTONE PARK, Zambia ꟷ When I began to hear about Cholera cases in my country, I did not understand we faced an outbreak. I distinctly remember thinking the announcements in my neighborhood and school were ignorant. I had no fear that my roommate and I, whom I shared a room with, would be affected.

During that time, Cholera spread through most of the provinces in Zambia including Kangwe and Kitwe. We continued to believe the outbreak would stop there, ending in the most affected places. I drank unfiltered water with no concerns, taking water directly from the tank rather than the chlorinated option. Then, one day, I woke up feeling dizzy with severe stomach pains, and I began vomiting.

Read more stories from the Viruses and the Health categories at Orato World Media.

After waking up sick, student ends up in a makeshift treatment arena in the midst of the Cholera outbreak

The day I woke up sick, I felt pain throughout my entire body. My roommate looked on as I struggled to get myself off the bed and make my way to the bathroom. After vomiting, I returned to the room and told my roommate I need to go to the hospital. I felt like I stood on the verge of death. Without my parents nearby, my roommate was the only person I had from back home, and I needed help.

Before rushing me to the hospital, my roommate called my parents to inform them of how sick I became. As we set off for Matero Level One Hospital in the Lusaka District, I began to miss home like never before. I had not slept a wink, waiting for dawn to ask for help. When we arrived at Matero Hospital, I heard the constant sound of the wailing sirens of ambulances. They brought in a steady stream of patients and took others out for burial after succumbing to the virus.

Suddenly reality struck me full force, and I realized how ignorantly I acted, taking my life into my own hands. I thought of the saying, ignorance is an enemy, even to its owner. The hospital staff immediately took me in and admitted me. Later, they transferred me to the National Heroes Stadium [a multi-purpose stadium in Lusaka that hosts soccer matches and is home to Zambia’s national soccer team. The stadium, which opened in 2014, can hold 60,000 spectators.] Authorities transformed National Heroes Stadium into a massive treatment center with about 800 medical professionals tending to patients from around the country.

A classmate dies of Cholera, but young man makes it through outbreak: grateful to God and the nurses

At the stadium, visitors gathered beyond the metal barrier awaiting any possible news of their loved ones. The only person permitted to enter and visit me became my roommate. Periodically, the team at the stadium read out a roll call of names to assure the gathering crowd outside the barrier that their infected loved one remained alive.

They permitted no outside food into the stadium and we survived on bananas, milk, and water. Without my parents nearby, it felt incredibly difficult to endure my illness and quarantine. Only one year passed since I started school in Zambia, and I still faced a language barrier, making communication with the doctors particularly difficult. Thank God for my roommate who helped me through the entire ordeal.

Each time he arrived to visit and I saw his face, a sense of hope arose inside me. He suffered minor symptoms of Cholera infection but received an immediate vaccination and fared well. Being in such a terrible state, I felt constantly grateful for the nurses who tended to me.

My fear escalated momentarily when my roommate told me a schoolmate succumbed to the disease. It seemed surreal. I spent two long weeks at the National Heroes Stadium, facing a difficult healing process, but my will to improve remained strong. Taking my medication five times a day, we effectively killed the virus. When I finally recovered, I made my way home looking very pale, but feeling better. Now, I simply thank God for keeping me alive.

[The Cholera outbreak in Zambia began around October 2023 and according to the World Health Organization, quickly became a critical public health emergency, affecting thousands in virtually every province, and leading to hundreds of deaths.]

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