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Cholera grips Zimbabwe

24th November 2008

An outbreak of cholera in Zimbabwe has killed hundreds of people in the urban areas of the impoverished country.

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Nearly 300 people have died out of about 6,000 people affected by the water-borne disease, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The disease is likely to continue to spread owing to poor sanitation in Zimbabwe's towns and cities.

The total number of suspected cholera cases in the country as of 18 November stood at 6,072 with 294 deaths.

Amid recent political violence and economic turmoil, many towns lack a reliable water supply, and sewers are often broken and waste uncollected.

Many hospitals have closed their doors in what is the worst outbreak since 2000.

Michel Van Herp of the aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said cholera is endemic in Zimbabwe.

What healthcare services were available were beset with a shortage of drugs, medical supplies and health professionals, WHO said.

The start of the rainy season would also exacerbate the problem.

It said the water and sanitation situation was worsening, with severe shortages of potable water, sewage and waste disposal problems reported in most populated areas.

The disease has now spread to all provinces in Zimbabwe, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva.

Government figures report just 90 deaths from the outbreak, although the health minister has admitted the government is battling to control unprecedented outbreaks.

Cholera, an intestinal infection caused by bacteria, is often linked to contaminated supplies of drinking water and spreads quickly in areas with poor sanitation. It is rarely spread by person-to-person contact, and most people infected do not actually get ill.

Officials said the epicentre of the outbreak was in Budiriro, a suburb of the capital Harare, although the current wave of cholera had begun in September in Chitungwiza, a satellite town south of Harare.

Doctors said Zimbabwe's health system, once the envy of many developing countries, was now teetering on the edge of collapse, with sick people in need of medical attention being turned away from hospitals and clinics.

A spokesman for a junior doctors' association said cholera patients sufferers would be coming to hospital to die, because there was nobody to care for them there.

Malvern Nyamutora, vice-chairman of the Junior Doctors' Association, pointed out that the failure to deal with the outbreak, which is treatable with fluids and antibiotics, showed the depth of the health crisis in the country.

 

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