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As Cholera Spreads, Zimbabwe Police Put Down Protest By Health Workers

Riot police in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare on Tuesday violently dispersed hundreds of doctors, nurses and other health workers who had gathered at the state-run Parirenyatwa Hospital to protest poor salaries and working conditions in the deeply troubled sector.

Organizers of the protest said more than 50 people were injured as riot police wielded batons, reports correspondent Sylvia Manika of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe.

The Hospital Doctors Association said it intended to keep organizing demonstrations until the grievances of its members - which include salaries that barely cover the costs of of transport to and from work, and a lack of basic drugs and materials - have been met.

Hospital Doctors Association Secretary General Simba Ndoda told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that while the government has claimed that it is broke, his organization has received offers of help from international organizations.

Meanwhile, the international aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres warned that as many as 1.4 million people in and around Harare were at risk of contracting cholera if an epidemic there continued to spread. The MSF Web site said the organization has set up treatment centers at Budiriro Polyclinic and the Harare Infectious Diseases Hospital where it has treated about 500 patients to date and continues to admit some 38 new patients each day.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said 78 percent of cholera patients come from the townships of Budiriro and Glen View, with a combined population of 300,000. The epidemic has also hit Mbare, Kambuzuma, Kuwadzana and Glen Norah, it said.

MSF said the cholera treatment centers it has established include doctors, nurses, logistics staff, chlorinators and environmental health workers who work to disinfect the homes of those stricken by the highly contagious disease. It is also supervising funerals as traditional body washing, followed by hand shaking and eating, has helped spread the disease.

The MSF statement said the Budiriro treatment center has become so overwhelmed that one girl died on a bench in an observation area. It quoted logistics specialist Vittorio Varisco as saying patients were lying outside on the grass while tents with more beds were set up.

Cholera has also struck the southern border town of Beitbridge, many residents of which have been seeking medical care across the border in Musina, South Africa.

Sources in Beitbridge said the outbreak has claimed around 50 lives to date, and that 500 people have been admitted to Beitbridge Hospital with symptoms.

Correspondent Benedict Nhlapo reported that doctors are advising those traveling through the border town to be careful of what they eat and drink to avoid infection.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...