Zimbabwe's cholera crisis worsens as number of dead, infected climbs – UN

20 February 2009

The mounting death toll from Zimbabwe's devastating cholera epidemic has reached almost 3,800, with more than 80,000 people infected, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) reported today.

Some 3,759 people have now died from cholera since the outbreak first hit the besieged southern African country in August last year, with all 10 of Zimbabwe's provinces having been affected by the water-borne disease, which has spilled over to neighbouring countries.

WHO noted that South Africa, which has a relatively strong health care system, has been able to limit the number of fatalities to below one per cent of people infected by the deadly disease, compared to four per cent in Zimbabwe last December and between one and two per cent in recent weeks.

A high number of cholera cases have also been reported in Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia, all countries where the disease is endemic.

There are 365 cholera treatment centres operating in Zimbabwe and WHO has set up a Cholera Command and Control Centre in the capital, Harare, with its partner agencies to provide technical support in the areas of epidemiological and laboratory surveillance, case management, social mobilization, logistics, and infection control and water sanitation in treatment centres.

WHO warned that containing the rate of infection remains a significant challenge given the country's dilapidated water and sanitation infrastructure and a weak health system.

Its priorities now include decentralizing the emergency response, particularly to areas with no active non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and strengthening social mobilization within communities to improve access to health services and earlier treatment. The agency will also focus on resource mobilization and greater involvement of partners in the field.

 

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UN dispatches humanitarian mission to Zimbabwe as cholera deaths near 3,400

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