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Zimbabwe Official Cholera Cases Expected to Reach 100,000

Cholera remains a threat in Zimbabwe, despite a drop in the infection rate in recent months. So says a new report from the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. In the coming months, the 100 thousandth case of cholera in Zimbabwe is expected to be officially reported. Nearly 4,300 people have died in the outbreak that began last year.

IFRC Head of Media Paul Conneally, in Geneva, describes the main thrust of the report as "the fact that cholera has not receded in Zimbabwe…. And while Zimbabwe may have faded from the news headlines over the last few months, that is not the same case with cholera."

Infection rate decline misleading

"The infection has dropped slightly from what was over six-percent at the height of the crisis to some four-and-a-half-percent today. This is a very, very high rate of infection in any population and is the reason why this is the worst crisis of cholera that we've seen in Africa in more than 15 years," he says.

The IFRC is calling for mid- and long-term investment to stave off the fundamental causes of the outbreak.

The report says, "The eradication of cholera in Zimbabwe or the complete conclusion to this current epidemic is unlikely unless the underlying causes of the health crises are addressed."

Many critical contributing factors

As for the causes, Conneally says, "One of the more important ones is that while cholera is a severe humanitarian issue in Zimbabwe, per capita, the country is the most dependent on food aid."

The World Food Program estimates up to seven million Zimbabweans may need food assistance out of a population of about 13 million.

"Then there is the very high prevalence of over 15 percent of the population of HIV and AIDS. There is evidence to show that Zimbabwe's once successful anti-retroviral (drug) rollout has begun to regress. And then, of course, there's the maybe better-known issue of hyperinflation," he says.

Adding to those problems is the deterioration of Zimbabwe's water and sanitation infrastructure.

More money needed

Conneally says thousands of Red Cross volunteers, especially in the rural areas, have helped deal with the cholera outbreak. But he says resources to continue the effort are in short supply.

"We are 50 percent under-funded for our appeal and we do need the donor community addressing the situation more seriously than has been the case to date," he says.

The IFRC says funding shortages forced the organization to reduce operations in Zimbabwe in February.

Conneally says, "This is not a situation that any humanitarian organization wants to be in. However, the resilience of the Zimbabwean people and the skills and the dedication of the Zimbabwean Red Cross will pull us through to a certain extent. But we need resources to properly do the job."