With over 15 hundred deaths reported from cholera in Zimbabwe, humanitarian agencies are stepping up efforts to stop the epidemic. However, the number of cases could rise due to heavy rains and floods.
Farid Abdulkadir is the Red Cross regional national disaster management coordinator for southern Africa. He's just returned to Johannesburg from Zimbabwe and spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua.
"The biggest problem that is the main cause of the cholera is…the water system is almost collapsed, where you have lack of chemicals, damaged infrastructure that results (in) poor water supply. That actually has made cholera spread very widely. And of course, right now, with the flood and excessive rain…in Zimbabwe you actually expect a spike of the cases that will be reported," he says.
Adding to the problem is a weakened health system. "The staff has not been paid…adequately, so they stop working, and also lack of medicine. So there are a number of factors that have actually made the cholera situation in Zimbabwe worse off than it was before," he says.
He stresses it is a "weakened" healthcare system, not one that has collapsed. "When you have very few health workers, when you have very little drugs to operate, it is a system that has greatly been weakened because of the economic situation and other factors in Zimbabwe. So, it is really to try and support the current Ministry of Health infrastructure, but at the same time reinforce the water system," he says. Abdulkadir adds health care workers should be given some economic support so they'll return to work.
The Red Cross official says, currently humanitarian agencies have full access to the country, but he warns travel could become a problem because of heavy rains and floods.
"The Red Cross…has sent in seven emergency response units composed of almost 60 people from 17 nationalities," he says. The teams concentrate on cholera prevention, water and sanitation. Other humanitarian agencies are conducting similar programs.