WHO: Zim cholera cases pass 50 000 mark

More than 50 000 people are now infected with cholera in Zimbabwe’s epidemic, which has so far killed 2 773 people, the latest figures from the World Health Organisation said on Friday.

Most alarming is a mortality rate of 5,7 percent, said a statement from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). THis indicated that the outbreak was still far from under control.

“Overall, this signifies a 20 percent increase in cholera deaths over the past week and rings alarm bells about the need to push back this epidemic and better fund the humanitarian effort on the ground,” said the statement.

Tony Maryon, head of the IFRC team in Zimbabwe, said: “Because of the severity of this outbreak, we fear that it will take many more weeks to get it under control.”

Aid agencies have for several weeks been preparing for a worst-case scenario in which the rainy season spreads the infection to 60 000 people.

But although the Geneva-based IFCR launched a Zimbabwe Cholera Emergency Appeal on December 23 for $9,2-million, it is currently 60 percent underfunded.

The scale of the operation is unprecedented in Red Cross terms—bigger, in terms of the number of emergency health units deployed than its response to the Burma cyclone last year. But the organisation could have to suspend within a month if it doesn’t receive new funds.

“As it stands now, we won’t be able to continue our operations beyond the next four weeks,” Maryon said in a statement.

“We are active in all of the affected areas,” said Emma Kundishora, the secretary general of the Zimbabwe Red Cross, which has deployed 1 000 volunteers across the country.
A key component of their work is sensitising ordinary people to the risk of infection and giving them the basic tools, such as water purification tablets, to protect themselves.

“Our volunteers and staff are on the ground, producing clean water, establishing and supporting sanitation and treatment facilities and passing on life-saving health awareness messages,” said Kundishora.

“Because of the breakdown in the information infrastructure, people don’t know why people are dying,” said Matthew Cochrane, the IFRC’s southern Africa spokesperson.

Cochrane cited the example of one area, where fishermen were burying their cholera dead along the banks of the lake where they fish, completely unaware they risked contaminating the water and putting further lives at risk.—Sapa-dpa

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