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Zimbabwe Government Declares National Emergency In Cholera Epidemic

The government of Zimbabwe late Wednesday declared that the cholera epidemic which has claimed more than 500 lives, and the breakdown of the national hospital system, constituted a national emergency, the state-controlled Herald newspaper reported.

The Herald quoted Health Minister David Parirenyatwa as telling a meeting called in Harare to mobilize and coordinate a national and international response to the crisis that there was a "critical shortage of resources" in the Zimbabwean health sector.

"Our central hospitals are literally not functioning," the Herald quoted Dr. Parirenyatwa as saying. "Our staff is demotivated and we need your support to ensure that they start coming to work and our health system is revived."

Doctors and nurses in Zimbabwean state hospitals have been striking on and off for the past year or more, but last month most of Harare's main state hospitals essentially closed as medical staff walked off the job over low pay and abysmal working conditions.

Dr. Parirenyatwa appealed to donors for medicine, lab chemicals, surgical materials, X-ray film, food to feed patients other materials lacking in the national health system.

"The emergency appeal will help us reduce...mortality," he said.

The Herald quoted the health minister as telling the meeting that the government needed US$1.5 million a month to pay incentives to health workers.

Deputy Water Minister Walter Mzembi told the meeting that authorities had enough water-treatment chemicals for 12 weeks. The Zimbabwe National Water Authority shut off water to the capital for about 24 hours earlier this week citing a lack of such chemicals.

A World Health Organization official said earlier Wednesday that the agency will continue to provide materials and funding to bring Zimbabwe's widening cholera epidemic to a halt.

The United Nations agency said Tuesday that the epidemic had claimed 565 lives, but at that time the death count was rising at a rate of more than 80 victims a day.

WHO Epidemic and Diseases Spokesman Gregory Hartl told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the international community will do all it can.

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