UN: Zim cholera death toll rises

The death toll from cholera in Zimbabwe has reached 2 201, the United Nations said on Friday, warning that prevention measures were not working.

The UN’s humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) said in Geneva that a growing number of deaths were occurring outside care facilities in rural areas, with 87% of the country’s districts now affected by the disease.

The new death toll is nearly 100 more than the 2 106 reported by the World Health Organisation on Wednesday, while the number of people affected is up from 40 448 to 41 986.

“We’ve noticed a growth in the death rate outside the health system, of people in their homes, especially in the countryside,” OCHA spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs told journalists.

“What we’re worried about is the 51% who are ‘community deaths’,” she said.

“That proves that the results we were hoping for from the prevention campaigns and the distribution of medicines and supplies ... are not being felt,” she added.

The UN pointed to a “meltdown” in social and economic facilities in Zimbabwe, hit by political crisis and runaway inflation, that stopped the provision of clean water and proper hygiene, generating a cycle of “infection and re-infection”, especially in rural areas.

Public health staff at government-run treatment centres were underpaid and in need of financial support to ensure continued treatment there, Byrs said.

Meanwhile, most of the working trucks left in the country are being snapped up for a massive food aid operation that is targeting six million people this month alone, leaving essential medical supplies by the wayside.

The OCHA said red tape was blocking the import of more vehicles that were “desperately needed”.

An added concern is the imminent flood cyclone season, which stands to worsen the impact of cholera, a water-borne disease. Zimababwe’s government this week put out flood warnings as rivers swelled, the UN said.

On Thursday, neighbouring countries sounded the alarm about the rising number of infections, fearing an ever increasing regional spillover.

Sanctions
Meanwhile, the European Union may impose further new sanctions against Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe’s government, the Czech foreign minister told reporters on Friday.

Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country holds the EU presidency, spoke after meeting his South African counterpart, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
EU development commissioner Louis Michel was also present at the meeting outside Cape Town.

“The European Union is contemplating the implementation of further restrictive measures,” he said.

“The sanctions, we have not yet decided about them. They would be what we call tailor-made—not hitting the broad population but hitting those who are responsible and in power,” Schwarzenberg said.

The EU last month widened sanctions on Mugabe’s government, including a travel ban on his inner circle.

The EU also expressed deep concern about human rights violations, the cholera epidemic and “the tendency of Robert Mugabe to make unilateral decisions”, Schwarzenberg added.

Mugabe signed a power-sharing deal with Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai four months ago, but their agreement to form a unity government has never been implemented, despite the worsening humanitarian crisis.

“The best agreements, the best laws are totally senseless if they are not implemented,” Schwarzenberg said, adding that the unity accord “is the only starting point we have to the process of democracy and rule of law in Zimbabwe”.

Despite the stalemate in Zimbabwe, Dlamini-Zuma insisted that forming a unity government was the only way to tackle Zimbabwe’s challenges.

Rights activist
Zimbabwe rights activist Jestina Mukoko can appeal her six-week detention before the Constitutional Court, a judge ruled on Friday, in a case that has raised doubts about the fragile power-sharing deal.

Magistrate Archie Wochiunga said that the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project could ask the Constitutional Court to free her and toss out charges that she recruited people for military training to topple Mugabe.

“The request is neither frivolous nor vexatious,” Wochiunga said. “The constitutional question is therefore referred to the Supreme Court.”

A panel of Supreme Court judges will be called to sit as the Constitutional Court to hear her case, which has drawn international condemnation.

Mukoko was taken from her home on December 3 by a dozen armed men who claimed to be police, according to fellow activists, and was not seen again until she appeared in court three weeks later.

She told the magistrate court on Thursday that authorities had beaten her about the soles of her feet during interrogations, flatly denying the charges against her.

She is among 32 activists abducted under similar circumstances in separate incidents since October, according to Human Rights Watch.

The MDC says 11 more of its members are missing, while two top party officials appeared in court on Wednesday on charges of trying to assassinate the head of the air force.—Sapa-AFP

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