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Unclear When Zimbabwe Cholera Epidemic Will be Under Control, says WHO

The World Health Organization says a lot more work needs to be done to contain and stop the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe. Dr. Claire-Lise Chaignat is the head of the WHO's Global Taskforce on Cholera. From Geneva, she told VOA's Joe De Capua that despite the controversy over President Mugabe's comments Thursday, the situation is very serious.

Mr. Mugabe had declared the epidemic had been stopped, but Friday state media report his comments were merely sarcasm.

"We know that the epidemic is continuing. And what we are currently doing is continuing to put all efforts together in order to save lives and to control the spread of the epidemic," Chaignat says.

With the death toll hovering around 800 and the number of reported cases around 16,000, have any of the efforts to stem the epidemic been effective?

The WHO official says, "To put in place the activities is not easy in the context such as the one we are facing currently in the field. And there are many acts that need to be coordinated. We know that there are a lot of ngos also on the site and they are quite active already and doing quite a lot of activities in regard to case management and prevention and preparedness activities. So, things are being put in place. We're starting to have better information and we're starting to see that we have a better grasp on the epidemic now."

However, she says that the WHO cannot give a timetable as to when the epidemic would be under control. Both treatment and prevention efforts are being stressed.

"We have to do both in parallel. It's very important to treat efficiently cholera cases that are occurring so that we can avert death, unnecessary deaths. And at the same time, we have to do all that is possible to prevent new cases from occurring," she says.

This week, South Africa declared its border with Zimbabwe a disaster area because of the many cholera patients entering the country seeking treatment. "We have our country office in South Africa, and this country office is very eager and very active in providing support to the Ministry of Health…so that the South African government has all the capacities in place to respond efficiently to the cholera cases that should occur on the cross border post," Chaignat says.