Zimbabwe cholera fears grow as rains peak

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic, which has killed more than 1,600 people, could get worse as the rainy season peaks, its health minister said on Monday.

The outbreak has heightened the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe and the opposition are deadlocked over a power-sharing deal and the veteran leader is resisting Western calls to step down.

The World Health Organization said last week that cholera had killed 1,608 people of 30,365 reported cases and the infection rate showed no signs of slowing.

The water-borne disease has spread because of the collapse of health and sanitation systems.

The rainy season peaks in January or February and ends in late March.

Health Minister David Parirenyatwa, speaking at the launch of an anti-cholera information campaign in Harare, said the rains could hamper efforts to stop the disease.

“While the statistics seem to be stabilizing, we are now approaching the heavy rainy season and we may have more outbreaks,” he said.

“Floods are a pre-disposing factor for cholera. We hope we don’t get floods this year.”

Zimbabwe’s low-lying areas, especially the northern Zambezi valley, are prone to floods, which killed dozens last year.

Parirenyatwa said aid agencies and foreign governments had responded to Zimbabwe’s call for assistance in fighting cholera, bringing much-needed water treatment chemicals, equipment, drugs and volunteers.

Cholera, which causes severe diarrhea and dehydration, has spread to all of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces.

Zimbabweans are already suffering from hyper-inflation and severe food, fuel and foreign currency shortages. There is not enough money to pay doctors and nurses or buy medicine in a country once seen as among Africa’s most promising.

(Reporting by Nelson Banya; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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