Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic hits 10,000 to 11,000 and rising

Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic is spiralling out of control, the United Nations has indicated after reporting a suspected 10,000 to 11,000 cases nationwide and rising.

By Peta Thornycroft in Harare
December 1 2008

Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic is spiralling out of control, the United Nations has indicated

Children play with stagnant raw sewage in a Harare suburb. The UN has said that the spread of cholera is “the tip of the iceberg” of a health crisis in Zimbabwe. Photo: Reuters

More than 425 people have died since the outbreak in August and the number is expected to rise due to poor sanitation worsted by the onset of the rainy season.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has accused the government of under-reporting the deaths, saying that he believed more than 500 people had died and half a million were affected by cholera.

Zimbabwe’s dilapidated infrastructure has made clean water a luxury, with many people relying on shallow wells and latrines in their yards.

Cholera spreads through dirty water causing vomiting and diahhreoa and while cholera has long posed a sporadic problem in rural Zimbabwe, the current epidemic is hitting the nation’s cities.

An anti-President Robert Mugabe protester has become the highest profile victim of the disease. Julia Chapeyama, 44, was repeatedly arrested and harassed by Mr Mugabe’s regime when riot police swooped on protests by Women of Zimbabwe Arise, of which Muss Chapeyama was a founding member.

She won an Amnesty International prize earlier this month for her pro-democracy campaigns.

Mr Mugabe has blamed western sanctions for the unprecented cholera epidemic.

The last significant cholera outbreak was in 1992 when 2 000 were infected.

Britain made £3 million available last week as part of a £10 million package for the unprecedented epidemic which has spread from Zimbabwe to South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique.

Hopes for easing the humanitarian crisis have dimmed as President Robert Mugabe and Tsvangirai have been locked in a protracted dispute over how to form a unity government after controversial elections earlier this year.

Zimbabwe’s economy has collapsed under the weight of the world’s highest inflation rate, last estimated at 231 million per cent in July but believed to be much higher.

Once a food exporter, nearly half the population needs international food aid, while 80 per cent of Zimbabweans are living in poverty.

Meanwhile, a 74-year-old British woman was beaten to death and her husband left in a critical condition after a violent attack on the couple’s farm in Zimbabwe.

The body of Mary Austen was discovered two days after she was murdered in Kwekwe, in the country’s centre.

Her husband Neville, a 77-year-old Zimbabwean was found unable to move or speak.

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Leaders ‘yet to approve key amendment’

December 1 2008

HARARE

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai have yet to approve a constitutional amendment critical to forming a unity government, state media said Sunday.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said Friday that “some shared understanding” had been reached over the amendment that will set out the powers of the prime minister.

Tsvangirai would become prime minister under a power-sharing deal signed on September 15, while 84-year-old Mugabe would remain as president.

Mugabe’s chief negotiator Patrick Chinamasa said in the state-run Sunday Mail that none of the leaders had signed off on the proposed law.

But he confirmed that negotiators had finalised the text for approval by the leaders.

“Negotiating teams are expected to report to their principals and political parties for clearance of the initialled document,” Chinamasa told the paper.

The amendment will create the new post of prime minister, bringing the country one step closer toward forming a unity government.

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said Friday that several other issues still needed to be resolved, despite the agreement on the amendment.

Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in a first-round presidential vote in March, when the MDC won a majority in parliament for the first time.

But he pulled out of a run-off, accusing Mugabe’s party of coordinating deadly attacks against his supportrs.

Since signing the unity accord, the rivals have been locked in a bitter dispute on how to divide power among their parties.

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Zimbabwe Health Minister Appeals for More Help to Combat Cholera Epidemic

By James Butty
December 1 2008

Zimbabwe’s minister of health and child welfare says a quick resolution of the political and economic crises is needed in order to address the many challenges facing the country.

David Parirenyatwa spoke as a cholera epidemic has killed more than 400 people with more than 11 thousand cases reported across Zimbabwe since August.

City officials in the capital, Harare, have reportedly offering free graves for victims of the epidemic. With more than a 200 million-percent inflation rate, most Zimbabweans cannot afford the nearly 30 dollars it costs for a grave.

Parirenyatwa told VOA Zimbabwe’s crumbling medical system was doing all it can to combat the cholera epidemic.

“We’ve got 10 provinces in the country, and nine of the 10 have got cholera. But you see what’s happening now that as Minister of Health and Child Welfare, together with out partners, we are trying extremely hard to try and cope with the situation,” he said.

Parirenyatwa appealed for support from the international community to manage water and sanitation.

“The biggest challenge that we have is to get adequate resources to contain this outbreak, and we are trying to mobilize resources from within the country and from outside the country. We are therefore making it clear both locally and internationally that we do need these resources, particularly resources that make us have the first principal of containing cholera which is having adequate water and adequate sanitation,” Parirenyatwa said.

He said Zimbabwe was grateful for what the international community has done so far.

Parirenyatwa denied that the discrepancy between government and independent figures in terms of the numbers of people who have died from the disease was due to an information blackout in the early days of epidemic.

“We could never ever do that because what affects us here affects also the countries around us. Clearly the figures that we published, we worked together with the professional body, the WHO, the World Health Organization. Whatever figures we get here we push them to WHO and they crosscheck. That’s how we work. May be the figures may be not as precise as people want, but this is what we get from our provinces as we collect data,” he said.

He emphasized the need for clean water and good sanitation to fight the epidemic. But Parirenyatwa denied the scope of the disease was necessitated by Zimbabwe’s dilapidated infrastructure.

“What is happening here is that you can not be able to contain cholera as long as you cannot control and sanitation properly, and we all aware that for whatever reason the economic situation has got challenges. And we are saying to ourselves as a small country that we are trying the best we can to cater for our people in terms of the health delivery system in this country,” he said.

Parirenyatwa said a quick resolution of the political and economic crisis is needed in order to address the many challenges facing Zimbabwe.

“There’s no doubt that political solution is needed to adequately address the challenges that we face in this country. And I hope that sooner rather than later we will find the political solution in this country that would address the suffering of our people in this country. As long as we don’t have that, we will struggle and struggle,” Parirenyatwa said.

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Water Cut Off in Harare

By Antony Sguazzin

December 1 2008

Zimbabwe has cut water supplies to most parts of the capital, Harare, after the national water authority ran out of chemicals needed to treat the water, the Herald said, citing unidentified people at the organization.

The areas included in the water cuts included the city center, the Harare-based newspaper said.

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