Zimbabwe’s worst-case cholera scenario, as predicted by the World Health Organization (WHO), is likely to be surpassed within a few weeks and there are still about two months of the rainy season left.
In December 2008 the WHO said cholera cases could balloon to 60,000 before the rainy season ended in March 2009, but Gregory Härtl, spokesman for the organisation’s Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response office in Geneva, told IRIN that as of 25 January, 53,306 cholera cases and 2,872 deaths had been recorded since the outbreak began in August 2008 [by 28 January the death cholera death toll in Zimbabwe had climbed to 3,028] .
Cholera, an easily treatable waterborne disease, thrives in poor sanitary conditions and is expected to remain a feature until Zimbabwe’s rainy season subsides.
The Herald, a state-owned daily newspaper, trumpeted in its 26 January edition that cholera was on the “retreat” in the capital, Harare. [...] However, Härtl said the conditions causing Zimbabwe’s cholera outbreak remained in place. “The systemic underinvestment in water and sanitation infrastructure and the health system … These conditions will not change overnight.”
Source: IRIN, 26 Jan 2009
To make matters worse, a report by SW Radio Africa stated that the International Red Cross has warned it could be forced to suspend its cholera-relief activities in the coming weeks, because of a critical lack of funding.
The US-based International medical rights organisation, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), have labelled Zimbabwe’s health crisis a ‘crime’ that should be the subject of an investigation by the International Criminal Court. In a report titled ‘Health in Ruins – a man made disaster in Zimbabwe’ – PHR details the spread of the cholera epidemic and outlines the implications the collapse of the healthcare system has on victims of human rights violations. The report’s preface, which is signed by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and Richard Goldstone, a former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, reads: “These findings add to the growing evidence that Robert Mugabe and his regime may well be guilty of crimes against humanity.”
One overlooked effect of the cholera epidemic, mentioned by Dr Douglas Gwatidzo, chairman of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, earlier in December 2008, was that it was diverting attention away from Zimbabwe’s HIV/AIDS crisis which claims the lives of more than 400 adults every day. People living with HIV are also particularly vulnerable to cholera because their immune systems are weakened and they have more difficulty recovering.
Regular updates and background information on the cholera epidemic can be found on the UN OCHA Zimababwe web page.