Estimating the reproductive numbers for the 2008-2009 cholera outbreaks in Zimbabwe

Zindoga Mukandavire, Shu Liao, Jin Wang, Holly Gaff, David L Smith, J Glenn Morris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

299 Citations (Scopus)


Cholera remains an important global cause of morbidity and mortality, capable of causing periodic epidemic disease. Beginning in August 2008, a major cholera epidemic occurred in Zimbabwe, with 98,585 reported cases and 4,287 deaths. The dynamics of such outbreaks, particularly in nonestuarine regions, are not well understood. We explored the utility of mathematical models in understanding transmission dynamics of cholera and in assessing the magnitude of interventions necessary to control epidemic disease. Weekly data on reported cholera cases were obtained from the Zimbabwe Ministry of Health and Child Welfare (MoHCW) for the period from November 13, 2008 to July 31, 2009. A mathematical model was formulated and fitted to cumulative cholera cases to estimate the basic reproductive numbers R(0) and the partial reproductive numbers from all 10 provinces for the 2008-2009 Zimbabwe cholera epidemic. Estimated basic reproductive numbers were highly heterogeneous, ranging from a low value of just above unity to 2.72. Partial reproductive numbers were also highly heterogeneous, suggesting that the transmission routes varied by province; human-to-human transmission accounted for 41-95% of all transmission. Our models suggest that the underlying patterns of cholera transmission varied widely from province to province, with a corresponding variation in the amenability of outbreaks in different provinces to control measures such as immunization. These data underscore the heterogeneity of cholera transmission dynamics, potentially linked to differences in environment, socio-economic conditions, and cultural practices. The lack of traditional estuarine reservoirs combined with these estimates of R(0) suggest that mass vaccination against cholera deployed strategically in Zimbabwe and surrounding regions could prevent future cholera epidemics and eventually eliminate cholera from the region.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8767-8772
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 24 May 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Basic Reproduction Number
  • Cholera
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Vaccination
  • Zimbabwe
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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