Doctors: Zimbabwe crackdown could lead to disease outbreaks

By Tendai Maphosa

Harare, 05 July 2005 - The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights says there is danger of disease outbreaks as a result of the ongoing government crackdown on informal traders and unapproved residential structures. The doctors say it may also lead to a worsening of Zimbabwe's already grim HIV situation.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights said the crackdown could trigger the spread of infectious disease due to the lack of proper sanitation or water supply for hundreds of thousands of people who are now homeless.

The warning is part of an appeal to the Zimbabwe and South African Medical Associations and other regional medical associations to use whatever means and influence they have to force the Zimbabwe government to stop the crackdown.

This is the doctors' second statement condemning the ongoing clean-up operation launched on May 19. They warn the police crackdown will result in a worsening of the HIV epidemic as community structures are fractured and dispersed. Because of a disruption of treatment programs, the statement warns of the inevitable emergence of widespread drug-resistant HIV.

With one in every four Zimbabweans HIV positive, the country has one of the highest rates of infection in the world.

The doctors dismissed a government statement that the exercise, called Operation Restore Order, is part of plan to provide housing for its people. They said the statement is completely devoid of credibility as there was no public announcement or record of such a plan before the operation got under way.

Defending the operation, President Robert Mugabe recently said the operation was necessary "to weed out hideouts of crime and grime, filthy stalls."

Meanwhile, the demolitions continue despite government statements the exercise is over. In Hatcliffe, a suburb near Harare where thousands have already been made homeless, eyewitnesses say police returned Monday to demolish structures from which residents carried out informal businesses.

The latest demolitions are happening as the government has announced a $320 million construction program to build houses and business premises for some of the displaced.

The forced evictions have been widely condemned at home and abroad as gross human-rights violations. According to the United Nations the operation has made about 200,000 poor Zimbabweans homeless.