Zimbabwe minister says cholera crisis could worsen

By Nelson Banya

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s cholera outbreak is likely to deepen, the deputy health minister said Thursday, stepping up pressure on rival parties to implement a power-sharing deal and ease a humanitarian crisis.

“It is very regrettable that people are dying of cholera. With the onset of the rainy season, the situation could worsen,” Deputy Health Minister Edwin Muguti told state television.

The death toll has risen to 386 from a total of 9,363 cases, he said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said last week the outbreak would likely to continue due to water shortages and poor sanitation facilities in the country, whose infrastructure has collapsed under the burden of a severe economic crisis.

The health system in Zimbabwe, which has the world’s highest inflation rate above 230 million percent, has been hit by drug and equipment shortages while many doctors and nurses have left the country in search of better working conditions.

The major public hospitals have shut down in recent weeks and garbage remains uncollected in most towns which are also struggling to cope with water shortages and broken sewers.

Cholera causes vomiting and acute diarrhea, and can rapidly lead to death from dehydration. It spreads fastest in situations with poor sanitation or where contaminated water is used for drinking or for preparing food.

Many Zimbabweans had hoped the power-sharing agreement signed by President Robert Mugabe and opposition rival Morgan Tsvangirai in September would help rescue the ruined economy, but it appears to be unraveling as the two fight for control of key ministries.

The state-run Herald newspaper reported Thursday that China had pledged $500,000 worth of vaccines to help Zimbabwe fight the outbreak.

“We are sympathizing with the Zimbabwean people and we want to help as best as we can to stop the spread of the cholera disease that has killed many people in this country,” He Meng, deputy head of mission at the Chinese embassy in Harare, told the newspaper.

(Reporting by Nelson Banya; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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