IMC deploys assessment team into Zimbabwe in response to deadly cholera outbreak

International Medical Corps is responding to a rapidly escalating outbreak of cholera in Zimbabwe that has killed almost 600 people so far, out of nearly 14,000 suspected cases. Some authorities put the number of deaths at over 1,000. The World Health Organization called it the worst outbreak in the country since a 1992 epidemic that killed 3,000.

"We are extremely concerned at how widely cholera has spread unchecked through the population and the lack of resources that exist to battle it," said International Medical Corps' Patrick Mweki, who arrived in the capital of Harare two days ago to assess the need. "Nine of the country's ten provinces have reported cases and people are in desperate need of basic medical care and clean water, in particular."

A spokeswoman for the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said: "The entire health system is collapsing, there are no more doctors, no nurses, no specialists." Many health workers are reportedly on strike because they have not been paid or have simply deserted hospitals and health centers as the crisis grows.

After previously insisting there was no need for alarm over the outbreak, the government of Zimbabwe, which has been in the throes of a crippling economic and political crisis, made an urgent appeal Thursday for international help and declared a national emergency. The European Commission responded with a pledge of more than $12 million in aid; the British have offered almost $15 million.

Meantime, hundreds of people each day have begun streaming into neighboring South Africa, sparking fears that the epidemic could spread beyond Zimbabwe's border. The World Health Organization says the average death rate among infected Zimbabweans was 4.5 percent in November, and as high as 20-30 percent in remote areas. The normal fatality rate, where clean water and medication are available is below one percent.

Since its inception nearly 25 years ago, International Medical Corps' mission has been to relieve the suffering of those impacted by war, natural disaster and disease, by delivering vital health care services that focus on training. This approach of helping people help themselves is critical to returning devastated populations to self-reliance.

For more information visit our website at www.imcworldwide.org