Zimbabwe cholera deaths rise, doctors protest

HARARE, Nov 18 (Reuters) - A cholera outbreak in southern Zimbabwe killed 36 people, state media said on Tuesday, while doctors in the capital Harare protested against hospitals being closed due to the nation's economic collapse.

Government health officials in the town of Beitbridge, 585 km (366 miles) south of Harare, told the Herald newspaper that between Friday and Monday 400 people had been hospitalised.

"There is a serious outbreak of cholera in Beitbridge ... the number of casualties has increased to 36," medical officer Takaitei Kanongara told the newspaper.

Officials in the town near the South African border blamed the outbreak on water shortages and poor sanitation facilities.

Cholera is a water-borne disease that causes vomiting and acute diarrhoea, and can rapidly lead to death from dehydration if not treated.

Zimbabwe, in southern Africa, is embroiled in a severe economic crisis and has the world's highest inflation rate of more than 230 million percent.

The crisis has forced many public hospitals to close down, and most towns are suffering from intermittent water supply, broken sewers and uncollected garbage.

Officials in Harare have recorded 37 deaths in recent weeks due to cholera. But a civic rights group, the Combined Harare Residents' Association, says more than 100 people have died.

Police on Tuesday cordoned off Parirenyatwa Hospital, the country's largest public health facility, to stop a protest march by some 200 doctors, nurses and other health workers.

Simbarashe Ndoda, a representative of the striking doctors, told Reuters the protesters wanted the government to re-open the hospital, which is only admitting patients in critical condition.

"There are no drugs and people are dying, we want the government to address these issues," Ndoda said, adding that health workers also were pressing for better pay.

"This has to be the only country in the world where a doctor's salary can only buy a loaf of bread. That is madness."

Hopes that a power-sharing deal signed by President Robert Mugabe and opposition rival Morgan Tsvangirai on Sept. 15 would usher in a unity government to rescue the economy are fading as the two fight over control of ministries.

(Reporting by Nelson Banya; Editing by Catherine Bosley)


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