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cholera zimbabwe, water zimbabwe, mugabe cholera
Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP
Morgan Tsvangirai, right, Zimbabwe's Prime Minister, hands a cup of clean water to a
cholera patient.

Zimbabwe Cholera Outbreak Approaches Grim Milestone

May 28, 2009 07:30 PM
by Emily Coakley
Humanitarian groups warn that Zimbabwe's cholera outbreak hasn't been eradicated, and expect the number of reported cases to soon hit 100,000.

Cholera Infection Rate Slowing, But Disease Remains

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Nearly 4,300 people in Zimbabwe have died in a cholera outbreak that started in August, the BBC reports. This week, a representative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said more than 98,000 cases have been reported.

"While the infection rate has slowed, the underlying causes of Africa's worst cholera epidemic in 15 years have not been fixed, warned the aid group," the BBC reported.

Those underlying causes include a water treatment system that is in disrepair, poor health and malnutrition.

The report comes as the country seeks international aid to rebuild its infrastructure.
Norway announced this week that it would give Zimbabwe $9 million. The Scandinavian country had stopped providing aid to Zimbabwe nearly a decade ago. In the last two months, the World Bank and Britain have pledged approximately $45 million in grants and aid, Reuters reported.

Erik Solheim, Norway's Minister of International Development, said his country wanted to support Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and the new government. 

"If we fail to support those who are fighting for change now, Zimbabwe could become a new Somalia," Solheim said, according to Reuters.

Norway is avoiding Zimbabwe's government by giving the country money through the United Nations and World Bank.

Background: Cholera breaks out, government asks for international aid

In December, experts warned that the epidemic could eventually affect more than 60,000 and that half of the country’s 12 million people were at risk. The World Health Organization said that the outbreak could lead to “serious regional implications,” as South African officials were already reporting that refugees in the Limpopo region on its border with Zimbabwe were spreading disease.

That same month, President Robert Mugabe declared in a televised speech that the cholera epidemic was over. “I am happy to say … that there is no cholera,” he announced, according to The Economist magazine, which called his remarks an attempt to “deflect” foreign criticism ahead of a United Nations special session on Zimbabwe.

“The delusion of Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, appears to know no end,” commented The Economist.

Zimbabwe’s government has said it needs aid to buy food, drugs and pay for medical costs such as equipment and doctors’ salaries, after the government declared a state of emergency. Zimbabweans have been struggling to find food and clean drinking water. The country had also recently seen wholesale economic collapse and the highest inflation in the world, which caused cash to become scarce.

In January, the U.S. agency Physicians for Human Rights released a new report in which it accused Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party of human rights abuses for destroying the nation’s health care system. The group suggested that Zimbabwe be investigated by the International Criminal Court and be taken control of by the UN.

“These findings add to the growing evidence that Robert Mugabe and his regime may well be guilty of crimes against humanity,” the report said.

The Zimbabwean government, in an effort to control the outbreak, formed an alliance with several nongovernment organizations, and Oxfam spokesman Paul Davenport in January said they were making some progress. “We’ve got several hundred people based in a number of offices around Zimbabwe and we’re working in the area of water supply and sanitation,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Several international entities have already pledged aid, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, which planned to provide an extra $600,000 specifically for the cholera outbreak; the European Commission, which was to send $12 million for drugs and clean water; and the International Red Cross, which sent supplies last month.

Around the same time, the BBC reported that Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga was calling for Mugabe’s removal, citing the death of power-sharing talks in the country. “It’s time for African governments … to push him out of power,” Odinga said after talks with Zimbabwe’s opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, in what the BBC called some of the strongest comments against Mugabe by any African leader.

Reference: What is cholera?

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