Collapse of Zimbabwe's infrastructure behind cholera epidemic

News and Press Release
Originally published
View original
By Patience Rusere

Outbreaks of cholera in Zimbabwe against the backdrop of a collapsed health care system are drawing expressions of alarm from within and beyond the country's borders, the latest coming from the South African cabinet which reproached Zimbabwe's political class for dickering over squabbling over cabinet assignments while the people suffered and died.

On Wednesday, the U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights and the Zimbabwean Association of Doctors for Human Rights warned of an expanding humanitarian emergency which they blamed on the Harare government, calling for international intervention and aid.

U.S. Ambassador James McGee in a news conference by video link with reporters at the State Department in Washington said the death toll had climbed to 294.

Medical sources say at least 1,000 people have come down with cholera, though the number seemed to be rapidly rising with one clinic reporting nearly 40 new cases a day, while hundreds of cases have been reported in the southern border town of Beitbridge.

The Combined Harare Residents Association blames the outbreak in in the capital on the Zimbabwe National Water Authority. In a statement Thursday, CHRA said ZINWA has failed to provide clean drinking water or properly maintain the city's sewage systems.

Greatly exacerbating the situation, the main state hospitals in Harare have all but closed for lack of staff, who have mostly walked off the job over abysmally low pay and horrendous working conditions, and a chronic lack of essential drugs and medical materials.

To examine the causes and impact of the epidemic, reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with immunologist Davison Saungweme of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and Dr. Douglas Gwatidzo, chairman of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, which has been prominent in efforts to control the disease.

Saungweme said cholera can be controlled, but that clean water is absolutely essential.