Widespread collapse of social services creates 'twin disaster' in Zimbabwe

UNICEF Image: Zimbabwe, water and sanitation, cholera
© AP Photo/ Mukwazhi
Women and children collect clean water from a UNICEF truck in Harare, Zimbabwe. UNICEF is currently the only agency able to deliver supplies and equipment in response to the cholera outbreak.

HARARE, Zimbabwe, 5 December 2008 – After a widespread breakdown in social services, the Government of Zimbabwe declared a national cholera crisis on Wednesday. The country’s health sector has collapsed and hospitals are closing, creating a ‘twin national disaster’.

Approximately 565 people have died from cholera since August, with almost 12,550 cumulative cases nationwide. The increase of the outbreak is attributed to poor water and sanitation supply, the collapsed health system and limited government capacity to respond to the emergency.

"Mainly, it's the lack of capacity for the municipal services and the water authorities to provide safe water and refuse collection," said UNICEF Zimbabwe Communication Officer Tsitsi Singizi. "At the same time, there's a collapse in the health services, which has made it impossible to treat the high number of infections."

UNICEF is currently the only agency able to deliver supplies and equipment in response to the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, providing an average of 360,000 litres of safe water every day.

© AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi
A Zimbabwean mother awaits treatment in Musina. In the past two weeks, nearly 200 Zimbabweans have been treated for cholera in this hospital at the South African border.

Outlining urgent needs

Working with the government, UNICEF has a response team dedicated solely to responding to the outbreak.

A 120-day emergency response is intensifying relief efforts by increasing health outreach services, providing nutritional supplements and scaling-up access to safe water.

UNICEF and its partners are also providing essential items such as bars of soap, latex gloves and water treatment tablet to meet the needs of approximatelty 3.5 million people over the next six months.

Children 'on the brink'

"The outbreak is really outpacing our response," said UNICEF Zimbabwe Communication Officer Tsitsi Singizi.  "It's becoming endemic. Nine out of 10 provinces have reported a cholera case."

Ms. Singizi noted that some Zimbabweans have even travelled to neighbouring South Africa for treatment.

The net effect on Zimbabwean children has been no schooling, a serious threat to their life, lack of health care, safe water and a reduced number of meals.

“Children in Zimbabwe are on the brink, and everyone’s focus must now be on their survival,” said UNICEF Zimbabwe Acting Country Representative Roeland Monasch.

Kyria Abrahams contributed to this story from New York.




UNICEF Zimbabwe Communications Officer Tsitsi Singizi discusses the need for a systemic solution to the country's cholera outbreak.
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