Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Zimbabwe: 2,000 dead - try denying that Mugabe

The death toll in Zimbabwe’s worst ever cholera outbreak has now topped 2,000, with more than 100 deaths – and nearly 1,500 new cases – added just today, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) reported.

In all, there have been close to 40,000 cholera cases reported in Zimbabwe so far, according to WHO, which adds that virtually no part of the country has been spared in the epidemic, made worse by a near collapse of the health system and deteriorating humanitarian conditions.

The disease, which is caused by contaminated food or water, has affected all ten of Zimbabwe’s provinces, and nearly 90 per cent of the country’s 62 local districts. Half the cases are in the capital, Harare, and only a handful of professionals are staffing clinics where several dozen are needed.

WHO and sister agencies, such the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), have been scaling up their efforts to respond to the outbreak, including through the delivery of vital medical supplies.

Boniface Nzara, a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist with UNICEF Zimbabwe, painted a grim picture of what he found during a recent visit to a rural clinic in Chinrundu, a small community in the country’s northwest region. The clinic, which only has the capacity to treat eight patients, was overwhelmed on the day of his visit, with 185 cases and 16 deaths.

“When we arrived at the clinic we were met by a frightening sight. People with cholera were just lying outside the clinic with very little assistance,” said Mr. Nzara. “The hygiene situation inside was literally a cholera breeding ground.”

UNICEF was able to assist the clinic by providing a “cholera kit,” which includes two treatment tents large enough to house 50 patients, beds and pit latrine equipment, as well as IV fluids and oral rehydration salts.

The agency also supplied a 5,000-litre water tank and 500,000 water-purification tablets to secure safe drinking water in the short term.

The cholera epidemic is just the latest crisis to hit Zimbabwe, which has been faced with a worsening humanitarian situation owing to years of failed harvests, bad governance and hyperinflation, as well as months of political tensions after disputed presidential elections in March involving the incumbent Robert Mugabe and the opposition figure Morgan Tsvangirai.

Although a power-sharing deal on the formation of a new government was reached in September with the help of regional leaders, outstanding issues remain, jeopardizing the deal’s implementation.
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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