Up to 60,000 could catch cholera in Zimbabwe: WHO

GENEVA (Reuters) - Up to 60,000 people in Zimbabwe could become infected with cholera in a worst-case scenario if the epidemic gets out of control, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

“The health-cluster assessment in a worst-case scenario is 60,000 cases,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told a news briefing in Geneva.

The known number of cholera cases in the country stands at 13,960 with 589 deaths, although the true extent of the deadly outbreak which began in August is unclear, according to the United Nations agency.

The cholera outbreak is the worst recorded in Zimbabwe.

Cholera, an intestinal infection that spreads through contaminated food or water, can lead to severe dehydration and death without prompt treatment.

The highly-contagious disease is both preventable and treatable under normal circumstances, but Zimbabwe’s health sector has nearly collapsed as a result of the country’s economic crisis.

The WHO is considering providing financial incentives for unpaid health workers in Zimbabwe to return to their jobs, according to Chaib.

“It is total chaos, three hospitals in Harare are closed due to a lack of personnel,” said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Jonathan Lynn)

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