The flow of Zimbabweans crossing into South Africa due to the cholera epidemic has caused South Africa to declare the border a region a disaster area.
Francoise Le Goff is with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies. From Johannesburg, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about whether the disaster area declaration has affected the agency’s cholera programs.
“In a way it does not affect our operations since we are already active in that area of South Africa. The local South Africa Red Cross…is distributing a lot of leaflets all along the border in various communities and is assisting the community with a lot of support and chlorine distribution and promotion of hygiene material,” she says.
Many people cross the South African border from Zimbabwe everyday, some for business, and others because they’re infected with cholera and are seeking re-hydration treatment.
“There is some worry that by providing too much care it will attract people. That is something that definitely worries always government or organizations providing care. But so far I don’t think it is at the level which cannot be managed,” Le Goff says.
Cholera centers have been set up in South Africa providing professional care. The Red Cross is now stepping up cholera prevention efforts, which include information on washing hands, preparing food, the risks of drinking well water in contaminated areas and the need to boil water or use chlorine or some other water purification chemical.
“We know that cholera is becoming dangerous when people have long (periods of) diarrhea. It usually starts with cramps. And when it’s too long, when it’s more than two days, people will be dehydrated. So they need in that case to replace fluids they’ve lost by drinking a lot. It’s a very simple, but very effective way to be re-hydrated when they can have a full spoon of sugar and one spoon of salt in one liter of water and drink that,’ she says.
More serious cases may require intravenous re-hydration methods. More than 16,000 cases of cholera have been reported in Zimbabwe with more than 780 deaths.
As the influx of Zimbabweans continues into South Africa, in Zimbabwe itself, President Robert Mugabe says his government has actually stopped the cholera epidemic. In a televised address, Mr. Mugabe said Zimbabwe's doctors, with the help of others, such as the World Health Organization, have been able to stop the epidemic. The Zimbabwean leader also accused Western leaders of using the outbreak to try to oust him from power.
The head of Save the Children in Zimbabwe said Thursday there is much evidence the crisis is growing, and that many
people have been unable to get to cholera treatment centers.
Within the past week, U.S. President George Bush, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga have all issued calls for Mr. Mugabe to resign.