WHO: Zimbabwe cholera death toll tops 1 700

Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic is picking up speed, with a total of 1 732 deaths out of 34 306 cases, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday.

A cholera update dated January 5 showed a further 59 deaths and 731 new cases, up from 32 deaths and 379 fresh cases reported the previous day, it said.

The waterborne disease, which causes severe diarrhoea and dehydration, has spread to all of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces because of the collapse of health and sanitation systems.

On Monday Health Minister David Parirenyatwa said the epidemic could get worse as the rainy season develops.

The rainy season peaks in January or February and ends in late March, and floods, which can affect Zimbabwe’s low-lying areas, may increase the spreading of the disease.

”Social service delivery is collapsing, notably education, health and water supply infrastructure,” said the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

It said the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) planned to help feed 4,5-million people a month until March when the main cereal harvest is due to start, while the Consortium for Southern Africa Food Security Emergency (C-SAFE) would handle another 1,8-million over the same period.

”WFP and C-SAFE pipelines combined will assist more than 50% of the population of Zimbabwe with food,” OCHA said.

The epidemic is adding to the humanitarian crisis in the country, where Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe and the Movement for Democratic Change are deadlocked over a power-sharing deal, and the veteran leader is resisting Western calls to step down.

Media fees
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwean government has hiked fees for foreign journalists and media organisations who must apply for permits to operate in the country, the state-run Herald reported on Tuesday.

Under the new schedule, a foreign media organisation will pay $30 000 per year to be allowed to operate, up from $20 000, it said.

”The application fee for a local journalist working for a foreign media organisation has been pegged at $1 000, with the accreditation fee set at $3 000,” the Herald said, citing the Government Gazette.

Last year, the accreditation fee for local journalists working for foreign media organisations was $2 000.

Local journalists would pay Z$1-million and Z$3-million respectively for application and accreditation fees, which is less than $1 on the parallel market.

President Robert Mugabe’s government passed a media law on the eve of the last presidential elections in 2002, which has been invoked to expel foreign correspondents and shut down at least four independent newspapers, very critical of his regime.

The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act compels journalists and media organisations to register with a government-appointed media commission.

BBC correspondent Joseph Winter fled Zimbabwe in 2001 after authorities revoked his work permit.

Andrew Meldrum, a reporter with Britain’s Guardian and Observer newspapers was expelled from the country in 2003.

Several foreign journalists were either detained or expelled after the March 2008 presidential poll.

New York Times correspondent Barry Bearak, who won a Pulitzer prize in 2002 for his reporting from Afghanistan, and a British national were on April 3 last year arrested in Harare, detained for several days and charged with operating without accreditation.

A Zimbabwean court on April 16 acquitted them of the charge and released them on bail. — Reuters, AFP

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