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Red Cross Launches Appeal for Zimbabwe Cholera Victims

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is increasing its response to the cholera crisis in Zimbabwe. The group is appealing for more than $9 million to help 1.5 million people during the next seven months.

The International Red Cross Federation has helped 11,000 cholera victims since November. But, it said the situation is rapidly deteriorating and could get worse with the arrival of seasonal rains and large movements of people traveling during the holiday season.

The United Nations reported more than 1,100 people have died and more than 20,000 have become infected from this deadly disease. It said the fatality rate is more than five percent, which is extremely high for an easily prevented and curable disease.

The Swiss humanitarian organization said it fears many more people could die from cholera if major action is not taken. The appeal will provide additional medical supplies, increase safe water and sanitation and promote a huge hygiene and education campaign to try to prevent people from falling ill.

The Head of Red Cross Aid Operations, Peter Rees, said seven so-called Emergency Response Units already have arrived in Zimbabwe and have been deployed to three of the worst affected provinces.

"These emergency response units include two mass sanitation units, each of which can support 40,000 people. Two water sanitation units, one producing 300,000 liters of water a day, the other 225,000 liters of water a day. And, the provision of clean water is one of the most critical elements in the response to cholera," he said.

Cholera spreads with contaminated water and bad sanitation. The disease is accompanied by diarrhea and vomiting. It is easily treated with intravenous fluids in severe cases and oral re-hydration therapy in simple cases.

Head of the Red Cross Health and Care Department, Dominique Praplan, said Zimbabwe is such a dysfunctional society that even the simplest measures are out of reach.

"It is not done because of the disorganization of the country, because of the financial crisis, the economic crisis, because of the people no longer going to work because they did not get the salary. We know that there is a collapse of the public service and the health system in Zimbabwe," said Praplan.

On top of that, Praplan said the terrible socio-economic conditions of the country have weakened peoples' resistance to disease, including cholera. He said risk factors such as poverty, food insecurity, and HIV/AIDS are adding to the problems.

The Red Cross Federation warned Zimbabwe's cholera outbreak could become a regional crisis. It noted South Africa, Angola, Botswana and Mozambique have seen an increase in cholera cases recently. It said it is closely monitoring this worrying situation.