Zimbabwe cholera deaths not slowing; 1,600 dead

GENEVA (Reuters) - The rate of cholera infections and deaths in Zimbabwe shows no signs of slowing, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

The WHO said 1,608 people had died of the disease — which could be treated relatively easily if Zimbabwe’s public sanitation and health systems had not broken down so catastrophically — out of 30,365 reported cases.

WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said the figures, for December 29, marked an increase of 44 deaths and 1,200 cases over the previous day — a rate that has been steady over the last few weeks. The epidemic began last August.

“Infections are still climbing and with the rainy season on the way the situation could get worse,” he said.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the world’s largest disaster relief network, says the cholera mortality rate is exceptionally high and could easily go higher.

Last week the WHO and international Red Cross officials said the movement of people visiting relatives and friends during the Christmas holidays could also help to spread the disease, which is affecting all of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces.

The outbreak has heightened the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe — relying on backing from South Africa — is resisting calls from Western and some African leaders to step down.

On Monday, South Africa called for continued efforts for the formation of a unity government in Zimbabwe under Mugabe, although the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has warned it might pull out of the long and so far fruitless talks.

International aid agencies say Zimbabwe’s health care and water sanitation systems have broken down amid the political chaos and violence of the past year.

(Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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