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Red Cross: Nightmare Scenario Unfolding in Cholera-Stricken Zimbabwe


The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says a nightmare scenario is unfolding in Zimbabwe as the number of cholera deaths and cases continues to mount. The Red Cross says it is hit with a severe funding crisis and this is hampering its ability to contain the deadly disease.

Senior health officer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Tammam Aloudat, has recently returned from Zimbabwe. He says the cholera outbreak in the country is increasing in scale and it is claiming more lives.

"The scenario that was described a few weeks ago and was told to be an excessive nightmare scenario is happening," said Aloudat. "It is unraveling in front of our eyes. We have close to 50,000 cases and close to 3,000 deaths already."

Several weeks ago, humanitarian agencies were warning that Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic could peak at 60,000. They called this a nightmare scenario and said all measures must be taken to contain the disease.

Aloudat says the Red Cross and other aid agencies have the expertise and the will to control a disease that, under more normal circumstances, can be fairly easily contained and prevented.

"Today as we speak, the Red Cross is providing treatment, providing sanitation, water and providing volunteers who are going to their communities to educate them and providing personal hygiene materials," said Aloudat. "This is what has the potential to avert a cholera outbreak. We can definitely contain this outbreak given the resources. We are not anymore in the 19th century."

But, that is the problem. The Red Cross is not being given the resources, the money it needs to carry out its life-saving mission. The agency appealed for over $9 million at the end of last year. Aloudat says this appeal is about 60 percent under-funded.

"The lack of funding is probably a mixture of several aspects and most important, we have seen the funding drop when Zimbabwe dropped off the TV screens. It is not about the politics or persons here. It is about the ability to reach people who are now dying of cholera and need assistance now. I think linking the humanitarian assistance to cholera to politics is not a good idea."

Aloudat says Zimbabwe's health system is completely shattered. He says health professionals are not going to work because they are hungry and they are not being paid. He says one of the most important things that must be done to control the epidemic is to top off the salaries of doctors and nurses so they report for work.

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