Doctors warn of looming health disaster in Zim cities

by Wayne Mafaro

HARARE - A Zimbabwe doctors' organisation has warned of a looming health disaster in the country's cities and said a new power-sharing government to be formed by the country's rival political leaders should act urgently to provide clean water in urban areas.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) said in statement this week that a government body charged with providing water in urban areas had failed to do so forcing many resident to rely on unclean water.

"This coupled with a breakdown in the sanitation system (burst sewage pipes and lack of refuse collection and proper disposal) is threatening the health of millions of Zimbabweans," the ZADHR said in a statement this week.

The doctors group spoke as the Ministry of Health confirmed the death of three people this week because of cholera in Harare's dormitory city of Chitungwiza.

The deaths bring to 16 the number of people who have succumbed to Cholera since an outbreak of the water borne disease in Chitungiwza last month.

The ZADHR said in addition to the outbreak of cholera in Chitungwiza, public health facilities in the capital Harare and in the second largest city of Bulawayo were also recording numerous cases of diarrhea on a daily basis. It was most likely that the number of deaths due to cholera in Chitungwiza may be much higher than what had been, the group said.

"The new government must address this crisis as a matter of urgency. It is a matter which cannot wait for the resolution of differences and sticking issues," the ZADHR said referring to a deadlock over distribution of Cabinet posts that has stalled formation of the new power-sharing government.

President Robert Mugabe, opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara signed an agreement to form a power-sharing government to tackle Zimbabwe's long running political and economic crisis.

But the three leaders have so far failed to appoint a new Cabinet to run the country because they cannot agree on how to share key posts in the new government.

Zimbabwe's recession marked by the world's highest inflation of more than 11 million percent, has hastened the deterioration of key infrastructure needed for economic activity and public health such as adequate power and water supplies.

The country public health sector, once lauded as one of the best in Africa, has been one of the hardest hit by the economic crisis with the government short of cash to import essential medicines and equipment, while the country has suffered the worst brain drain of doctors, nurses and other professionals seeking better opportunities abroad.