The World Health Organization says it hopes to have a surveillance
system in place soon that can accurately track cholera cases as they
occur in Zimbabwe. WHO says it is difficult to know which parts of the
country most need help in treating and containing the epidemic without
The United Nations reports cholera in
Zimbabwe has claimed more than 1,100 lives and more than 20,000, people
have become infected with this deadly disease.
But, the World
Health Organization warns cholera cases could soar to 60,000 if urgent
action to contain the disease is not taken. In fact, WHO says it is
likely there already are more cases than the official figures indicate.
of WHO's Disease Control in Emergencies, Dr. Dominique Legros, has just
returned from Zimbabwe. He was there to help set up the United
Nations Command and Control Center for the Control of the Cholera
He says the UN hopes to have a surveillance system in
place in a few days. He says this is absolutely crucial in monitoring
the course of the epidemic.
"We are setting up with implementing
partners, a system of daily reporting of cases," said Dr. Legros. "We
got clearance from the government to get these figures from the
periphery to the central level through contact persons in the CTC's
[Central Treatment Centers] and CTU's [Central Treatment Units] in the
main cities and the main towns so that we have immediate, if you wish,
updates and alerts for new outbreaks occurring in different places."
Legros calls this absolutely critical. Until now, he says, the
surveillance system has been too slow for health workers to respond to
While in Zimbabwe, Dr. Legros was part of a WHO
delegation that visited two cholera treatment centers in the capital,
Harare-the Budiriro Cholera Treatment Center and the Beatrice Road
Infectious Diseases Clinic.
Approximately half of the cases have
been recorded in Budiriro, a heavily populated suburb on the western
outskirts of Harare. Other major concentrations of cholera cases have
been reported along the borders with South Africa and Mozambique.
Legros says the quality of health care has to improve if lives are to
be saved. Unfortunately, he says the health facilities are in terrible
"The staff was basically not going to work because of the
lack of salary or too small salary with regard to the expenses," said
Dr. Legros. "I have seen hospitals, which were basically empty, like
sort of ghost hospitals because no material, no staff, etc. But, some
staff resumed working for the cholera outbreak and I have staff from
the government working in the CTC's and CTU's, cholera treatment units,
cholera treatment centers."
Dr. Legros says efforts must be
made to quickly fix the discrepancy in salaries between government
workers, who are badly paid and staff working for non-government
organizations, who command higher salaries. He says this would act as
an incentive to get health care workers back on the job.