Accessibility links

Breaking News

Aid Agencies Say Zimbabwe Cholera Deaths to Rise With Rainy Season

International aid agencies warn the onset of the rainy season in Zimbabwe could lead to more deaths from cholera if the epidemic is not rapidly contained. They urge a massive scale-up of operations to get on top of the disease.

Zimbabwe is struggling with its worst cholera epidemic and aid agencies warn it will probably get worse with the onset of the rainy season.

A spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Matthew Cochrane says the rains are late this year, but it is raining in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

If past years are any guide, he says the rains will flow down the Zambezi River into Zimbabwe and cause massive flooding.

"If we do not do what we need to do as a humanitarian community now, it could be catastrophic," said Cochrane. "Typically, you do not see really the first cases of cholera arrive until the rains come and then they flood out the shallow wells and septic tanks. But, now, we have already got a very serious situation and rain will only make it much, much worse. It is against the clock now. It is critical. And, we really need to be pushing through on this."

The United Nations reports there are more than 18,400 cases of cholera and nearly 1,000 deaths in Zimbabwe. The World Health Organization says the fatality rate is 4.7 percent, which is extremely high. In the worst case scenario, it warns 60,000 people could become ill.

Cholera is spreading rapidly in Zimbabwe because the country's health, sewage and water systems have collapsed. Health workers fear the upcoming rains will wash the feces lying in the bushes into shallow wells and contaminate the water.

The Red Cross is scaling up its operation in Zimbabwe. It is sending cholera treatment kits to care for thousands of people and one-half million sachets to purify 10 million liters of water.

The agency also is mounting a campaign to inform people on how to protect themselves from getting the disease.

Head of Red Cross Operations in Africa, John Roche says cholera also is spreading in neighboring countries. He says South Africa, Angola and Mozambique report thousands of cases.

"So, we are also looking rather at the bigger picture. How to prevent, because, of course, our main concern is coming up to the Christmas period," said Roche. "A lot of Zimbabweans who work in South Africa will be moving back into the country during this Christmas period. And we could see if we do not take measures now to keep this under control, we could have it spread much faster and wider in the region."

The World Health Organization is leading the international effort to control the spread of cholera in Zimbabwe. It says it will inaugurate, what it calls, the cholera command and control center on Thursday.

It says the center will coordinate cholera activities around the country to better identify where new cases are emerging and to better respond to the emergency.