Zimbabwe cholera deaths more than 2,000: WHO

By Nelson Banya

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic has killed more than 2,000 people and almost 40,000 have contracted the normally preventable disease, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.

The epidemic is adding to the humanitarian crisis in the country, 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.

An update dated January 12 showed 2,024 people had been killed by cholera from 39,806 cases.

The waterborne disease, which causes severe diarrhea and dehydration, has spread to all of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces because of the collapse of health and sanitation systems. The WHO said 89 percent of the country’s 62 districts are affected.

Zimbabwe’s government has warned that the epidemic could get worse in the rainy season which peaks in January or February and ends in late March. Floods, which can affect Zimbabwe’s low-lying areas, may increase the spread of the disease.

Cholera has also spread to Zimbabwe’s neighbors with at least 13 deaths and 1,419 cases recorded in South Africa.

Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia have also reported cholera cases.


U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights called on Zimbabwe’s government to hand over control of its health services, water supply, sanitation and disease surveillance to a United Nations-designated agency to try and ease the crisis.

The group said the U.N. Security Council should enact a resolution referring Zimbabwe’s crisis to the International Criminal Court for investigation.

Millions of Zimbabweans have fled to neighboring countries as the crisis at home bites, in search of jobs and better living conditions, and, more recently, medical treatment.

On Tuesday, an immigration spokeswoman said Zambia had deported 190 Zimbabwean illegal immigrants found sheltering at the country’s largest bus terminus in the capital Lusaka, fearing the spread of cholera.

“They came in as mere visitors but then started conducting business without valid papers. We had to act to stop the spread of cholera,” spokeswoman Mulako Mbangweta told Reuters.


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