Zim cholera surges as neighbours report rising cases
Zimbabwe’s cholera outbreak has killed more than 2 100 people, it was reported on Wednesday, as neighbouring countries sounded the alarm over rising infections of the treatable, water-borne disease.
Latest figures from the World Health Organisation show that the death toll in Zimbabwe has now reached 2 106 since August while 1 642 new cases were added on in a single day.
The total number of people infected has surged past 40 000.
Aid agencies have long warned of the threat of a regional spillover from Zimbabwe from where scores of people migrate daily to neighbouring countries.
Northern neighbour Zambia has recorded 28 cholera deaths, government spokesperson Canisius Banda said.
“Since September, we have seen 2 108 cholera patients and we lost 28 of them,” he said.
Still, Zimbabwe’s impoverished northern neighbour has sent $404 000 to Harare to support efforts to fight the epidemic there, he added.
In South Africa, the death toll climbed to 15 on Wednesday, with more than 2 100 cases recorded.
But both Zambia and South Africa distanced themselves from blaming Zimbabwe’s runaway epidemic for their own rising cholera infections.
“What is happening in Zambia has no connection with the Zimbabwe situation. Cholera in Zambia is from Zambia, and not from Zimbabwe,” Banda said.
However, at least 10 Zimbabwean cholera patients who crossed into Zambia had been treated free of charge as “an act of Godliness and a humanitarian gesture”, he added.
South African health spokesperson Fidel Hadebe said the country had a long history of the disease before the latest outbreak in Zimbabwe.
“We are not saying that there is no cholera problem from Zimbabwe,” he said, but added that “cholera is a disease we have had to cope with in South Africa over the years”.
Cholera regularly breaks out in many African countries that lack basic sanitation, but South Africa had not suffered such a dramatic caseload until the crisis in Zimbabwe.
Many of the cholera cases in South Africa have been Zimbabwean migrants or others who recently left the troubled state.
The outbreak is the latest disaster to hit Zimbabwe where hyper-inflation, chronic shortages of food, and collapsed infrastructure and social services have added to the woes of ordinary people.
Zimbabweans have long been forced to travel to neighbouring countries to shop for basic goods, while hundreds of thousands more have fled Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe’s rule and worsening conditions in their home country.
Human Rights Watch last week estimated that some 25 000 to 30 000 Zimbabweans had applied for asylum in South Africa’s border town of Musina during the last five months of 2008.
The desperate humanitarian crisis has come on the back of a political stand-off between Mugabe and chief rival Morgan Tsvangirai over the share of powers in a unity government.
Tsvangirai won a first-round presidential vote over Mugabe in March, when the opposition also seized a majority in Parliament for the first time since Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980.
But Tsvangirai pulled out of a run-off in June, accusing Mugabe’s government of orchestrating violence which targeted his supporters.
The two signed a deal to form a unity government in September, but the pact has stalled despite repeated regional efforts to revive it.—Sapa-AFP