January 13, 2009

2,024 people die of cholera in Zimbabwe

HEATH/POLITICS - Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic has killed more than 2,024 people and almost 39,806 have contracted the normally preventable disease, the World Health Organisation said Tuesday.

The waterborne disease, which causes severe diarrhoea and dehydration, has spread to all of Zimbabwe's 10 provinces because of the collapse of health and sanitation systems. The WHO said 89% of the country's 62 districts are affected. Cholera has also spread to Zimbabwe's neighbours with at least 13 deaths and 1,419 cases recorded in South Africa. Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia are also reporting cases of cholera.

The cholera 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.

The epidemic is adding to the humanitarian crisis in the country, where dictator Robert Mugabe is refusing calls to step down.

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 neighbouring countries as the crisis at home bites, in search of jobs and better living conditions, and, more recently, medical treatment.

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