Cholera could become new normal, UFS ecotoxicology expert cautions

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Dr Otomo
Dr Otomo

South Africa’s water challenges and dilapidating infrastructure could mean that cholera is here to stay. The recent cholera outbreaks in Gauteng and the Free State were a warning sign that the quality of the country’s water is questionable.

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, we remain at risk of recurring and isolated outbreaks until the country’s failing water systems are addressed.

He warned that as long as the country’s wastewater treatment works are in a poor to critical state, they pose significant risks to public health and the environment.

“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.

Dr Otomo said that cholera is one of the most vicious threats to public health and an indicator of inequality, because bacteria may continue to thrive if the current conditions remain unchanged. “

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.”

The current cholera outbreak could be subsiding, but he warns that it is only a matter of time before it resurfaces, or other waterborne diseases wreak havoc if things remain unchanged.

“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.”

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