Crisis in Zimbabwe as more lives claimed by cholera outbreak
The cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, now spread to rural areas, continues to worsen.
Health experts estimated late last year that 60,000 cases of cholera in Zimbabwe would be a worst-case scenario.
But, in latest figures released by the WHO in Geneva, some 60,401 Zimbabweans now have the disease. The death toll stands at 3,161.
The World Health Organization has said that the crisis is showing "no signs of abating" any time soon.
Challenges are mounting for both the national health care system and international aid organizations who are attempting to do work in the region.
Many medical staff have been refusing to work unless they get paid in hard currency, because the value of the Zimbabwean dollar is virtually worthless.
On 1 August 2008, the Zimbabwean government revalued their currency, effectively deleting 10 zeros from every monetary value. What was ZWD$10,000,000,000 became ZWD$1. However, even with the new currency, the exchange rate is still currently ZWD$24.5 on the US dollar.
The outbreak is fueled by worsening sanitation conditions:
Many hospitals have shut down and most towns suffer from poor water supply, broken sewers and uncollected waste.
The number of cholera cases in urban areas have been decreasing, but as cases in rural areas continue to rise, aid organizations fear that many people may die before an effective intervention could be put into place.
With the exception of the surge of cases in Kadoma, the cholera epidemic recently has been spreading mainly in rural areas of Zimbabwe. The numbers of new cases have been decreasing in Harare, although the numbers remain significant.
The spread of the disease in rural areas is a serious concern because some of these places previously had very low or no cases of cholera. As is often seen in rural outbreaks, deaths occur before an intervention can start, and MSF is concerned that the peak has not yet been reached in many of these areas.
The World Health Organization is calling for a drastic intervention in order to control the outbreak. Both the WHO and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have voiced concern that the upcoming rainy season will only exacerbate the crisis.
MSF had already named the cholera outbreak one of its Top Ten Humanitarian Crises of 2008, before it had spread to rural areas. President Mugabe had claimed an end to the outbreak in December 2008, saying:
"I am happy we are being assisted by others and we have arrested cholera," Mugabe said in a televised speech in which he also attacked what he described as western plans to invade Zimbabwe and topple his government.
"Now that there is no cholera there is no case for war," Mugabe said.
Mugabe and his allies have previously claimed that other nations were using the outbreak as an excuse to topple him, according to the BBC. Mugabe recently entered into an agreement with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to share power in government. The agreement says Tsvangirai will be sworn in as Prime Minister next week, on 11 February.
See WHO's most recent press release here.
See MSF's most recent press release here.