Rains, travel could spread Zimbabwe cholera

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The onset of Zimbabwe’s rainy season and an increase in the number of travelers over Christmas could spread a cholera epidemic that has already killed nearly 1,200 people, the Red Cross said Tuesday.

The outbreak of cholera has worsened the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe and brought renewed calls from Western leaders for veteran President Robert Mugabe to step down.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies — the world’s largest disaster relief network — appealed for over 10 million Swiss francs ($9.2 million) to boost its operations in Zimbabwe.

Health care and water sanitation systems have collapsed.

“We are just entering the rainy season, that’s one additional factor which could really make the epidemic worse. Then at the end of the year, the populations are moving and staff is less at work, this is another factor,” said Dominique Praplan, who heads the Federation’s health department.

The organization estimated that hundreds of thousands of people could be traveling over the holiday.

Cholera is highly contagious but treatable. Boiling water and frequent hand washing can help stop it spreading. Patients require oral rehydration salts. The worst cases, with severe diarrhea and vomiting, need intravenous fluids.

Cholera has now spread to all 10 provinces, infecting 23,712 people and killing 1,174 of them since August, according to the latest figures from the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“The cholera is spreading. We have an extremely high case mortality rate, exceptionally high,” said Peter Rees, head of the Federation’s operations support department.

“We anticipate it could get worse which is why we are deploying these very, very large resources to try and get the epidemic under control,” he told a news briefing in Geneva.

Roeland Monasch, acting head of UNICEF in Zimbabwe, said that only 60 percent of the water carried by Harare’s distribution system is reaching households because of leaks and broken pipes.

Garbage had not been removed for months in many areas, drawing flies which are a major risk factor for contamination, he said by telephone from Harare.

“Children play run around in the garbage, that’s part of the reason why we are cleaning up the garbage. Children run around mountains of garbage,” he said.

(Editing by Matthew Tostevin)


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