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Scurvy ‘Hits’ Zimbabwe’s Psychiatric Hospital Amid ”Poor Nutrition

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Authorities in Zimbabwe’s second city of Bulawayo say they’ve sent a team to investigate reports that scurvy has broken out in a hospital there.

The state-owned Chronicle newspaper reported that patients at Ingutsheni Central Hospital, a psychiatric institution, were developing scurvy “due to poor nutrition”.

Bulawayo already has teams on standby for typhoid, which has killed two and infected dozens in the capital Harare, which is more than 400 km away. Seven suspected cases of typhoid in Bulawayo last week all turned out to be negative. Responding to news of the scurvy outbreak on Twitter, the city council said: “We have sent a team to attend to it.”

President Robert Mugabe is currently out of the country in China on a trip that – as every year – has raised eyebrows, given Zimbabwe’s worsening economic crisis.

What is scurvy?

It is caused by a lack of Vitamin C in the diet, which means it’s usually a disease of poor nutrition. Patients are commonly weak and anemic and suffer from localised edema (swelling) and swollen gums. Sometimes they can lose their teeth. Untreated, scurvy can be fatal. Elsewhere it  is known as a Victorian disease because it was common among sailors who were at ea for long periods without access to fresh fruit.

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Any idea of how many patients are affected?

Not at the moment. Ingutsheni reportedly has 2 000 patients. Scurvy is not contagious. Ingutsheni is entirely dependent on government funding and has had problems before: in August it was reported that two members of staff were beaten up by patients in an incident blamed on a lack of sedative drugs.

Does scurvy just affect developing countries?

No. Scurvy was reported in Sydney hospitals in November. In that outbreak, the disease mainly affected overweight diabetic patients who weren’t eating enough fruit.

Hang on – shouldn’t Zimbabweans be avoiding fresh fruit anyway, given the typhoid outbreak?

No, although last year’s typhoid outbreak in Zimbabwe WAS partly contained by an unusually short mango season. Unwashed and unpeeled fruits can help spread typhoid. Zimbabwe’s health ministry says it has agreed on “comprehensive health education promotion” among communities to help stop the spread of typhoid. There are also fears of cholera.

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