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600 Dead in Zimbabwe from Cholera


In the southern African country of Zimbabwe, a cholera epidemic has killed about 600 people and infected at least 13,000 others since August.

Cholera is an infectious disease contracted by consuming contaminated food and water. Symptoms include severe diarrhea and dehydration. Bacteria in the diarrhea can infect water used by other people, spreading the disease.

In Zimbabwe, a lack of chemicals for water treatment and broken sewage pipes caused the epidemic. The government says it has only enough chemicals to treat the water supply for three more months.

Many people are now turning to unprotected wells for drinking water. One man says he will use the water, but not for drinking. "No, I won't drink water from this place," he said. "It's unfortunate that people have no alternative."

The United Nation's Children's Fund, UNICEF, is handing out water in tanks in Harare. But the demand is so great that residents often go home empty handed after waiting for hours. Another man gave up and went to an unprotected well. "But there is a long queue and I can't get water," he said.

Cholera is easily treated using oral dehydration salts or an intravenous drip. But many people are dying in Zimbabwe because the health system has collapsed. Hospitals are overwhelmed and other people live too far away to get treatment. Increasing numbers of Zimbabweans are crossing the border into South Africa for treatment.

"If they were getting service on that side, they wouldn't walk for so long or travel such long distances for treatment, being dehydrated at the same time," a doctor at the Musina Hospital stated.

Zimbabwe's government has declared a national emergency and wants additional international aid. Humanitarian groups fear the crisis will get worse unless something is done soon.

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