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Cholera cases in Zimbabwe near 100,000 as 'Twin Disaster' continues

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-1306/Tanner
A girl carries containers filled with safe water provided by UNICEF, in the suburb of Budiriro outside Harare, the capital.

HARARE, Zimbabwe, 3 June 2009 – Zimbabweans continue to suffer through the worst cholera outbreak in Africa in fifteen years.  According to a new report by the Red Cross, nearly 100,000 cases of cholera have been reported throughout the country, and over four thousand people have died.

UNICEF Zimbabwe Communications Officer Tsitsi Singizi says the 10-month-old epidemic has been driven by two major collapses in the country's infrastructure: social services and health care.

"Last year we had a near collapse of basic social services," Ms. Singizi said.  "Municipal services were not providing clean water anymore and they were not collecting refuse anymore. 

"There was also a collapse of the health delivery system, so if you went to the clinic and you were affected by cholera you would not be attended to." 

Rainy season makes things worse.

Without a major overhaul of Zimbabwe's social and health infrastructure, health crises like the current cholera outbreak will continue.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-1484/Nesbitt
Workmen repair a handpump in Zimbabwe. UNICEF is supporting the installation and rehabilitation of handpumps and boreholes to help prevent cholera from spreading.

Ms. Singizi is concerned that the upcoming rainy season will mean even more cases to come.

"We might have another spike in the number of cases once we have our first rain," she said.  "because cholera is waterborne and the contaminated water will be flowing towards open sources and people will be drinking from unprotected wells.

"So, before it ends – it will start again." 

Missing school, decreased productivity

Even those who avoid getting sick are still affected by the crisis. Children are missing school or kept from their homework while they search for clean water. 

The sight of children carrying 25 litre buckets of water over many kilometres is common in urban areas these days, according to Ms. Singizi.  Mothers are also affected. 

"In terms of time spent doing productive things, it's very limited for a mother who's running a household.  Instead, they're wasting their time looking for safe water," Ms. Singizi said.

Boreholes, hygiene education

At the moment, the number of cases is dwindling, so UNICEF has focused its response towards averting another outbreak. Along with its partners, UNICEF has drilled over 140 boreholes in cholera-affected areas.

"We have done something that is supposed to address the outbreak medium-to-long-term," said Ms. Singizi. 

"We've also done a lot of hygiene education just to make sure in those communities there won't be a resurgence of an outbreak."




UNICEF Zimbabwe Communications Officer Tsitsi Singizi discusses the ongoing cholera crisis.
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