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Zimbabwe: UN agency calls for $2 million to fight cholera epidemic

Zimbabwe: UN agency calls for $2 million to fight cholera epidemic

This tent is part of a UNICEF cholera treatment and control centre
The United Nations health agency today called for $2 million for a three-month assault on Zimbabwe’s worst cholera epidemic in over 15 years, including emergency health supplies, water purification equipment, portable diagnostic kits and trained personnel.

More than 11,700 cases have been recorded since August, 473 of them fatal, giving a fatality rate of 4 per cent nationally. That rate reached 50 per cent in some areas during the early stages of the outbreak, compared with a benchmark rate of below 1 per cent, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) reported.

“Cholera outbreaks in Zimbabwe have occurred annually since 1998, but previous epidemics never reached today’s proportions,” WHO said in its latest update today. “The last outbreak was in 1992 with 3,000 cases recorded.”

WHO has been airlifting emergency stocks from the UN Humanitarian Resource Depot in Dubai and mobilizing additional drugs and supplies through the WHO country office in South Africa as well as deploying a full outbreak and investigation response team, including logisticians, epidemiologists, communications officers and specialists in water and sanitation.

Cholera, an acute intestinal infection caused by food or water contaminated with the bacterium vibrio cholerae, has a short incubation period from less than one to five days and causes copious, painless, watery diarrhoea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if treatment is not promptly given.

WHO is seeking to reduce the epidemic’s spread by ensuring access to safe water and maintaining safe isolation and infection controls in health centres, and to reduce mortality through early detection and improved access to health care and feeding support.

Just last week, UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Catherine Bragg urged donors to generously support an overall $550 million appeal to respond to the humanitarian crisis in the Southern African country, which she warned would get much worse without massive international assistance.

Zimbabwe is mired in a crisis brought about by a confluence of factors, including three years of failed harvests, bad governance and hyperinflation, among others.