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US Envoy Tours Zimbabwe Clinic to Assess Cholera Epidemic

The U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee Thursday visited a government clinic where western aid is helping cure people of cholera, an epidemic which is the worst the continent of Africa has ever seen. The ambassador's visit was the first time journalists have been allowed into medical facilities treating cholera patients since the disease began its rapid spread last November.

James McGee visited the Harare government clinic in the western Harare township of Budiriro Thursday to check on progress in treating the disease.

The clinic is staffed by nurses from non-governmental organizations and a handful from Zimbabwe's ministry of health, who are paid by the United Nations. All medical materials available at the clinic for treatment and diagnosis of cholera are provided by western nations.

Recovering patients are in a large tent outside the clinic and most are due to go home in the next day or two, but they all said they were hungry and some were visibly weak.

One, a bookkeeper at a Harare company, who was on a drip for five days, said he, like so many others got cholera from drinking water from a well during a period when suburb had no municipal water for two weeks.

He said he had arrived at the clinic very ill.

"I nearly died," said the man. "At least now I am better because at least I can talk, when I came here I couldn't talk, and I couldn't walk properly. But now I am a little bit better."

The United States has already contributed nearly $7 million in drugs for Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic since it peaked early last November.

More than 3,000 Zimbabweans have died, and over 50,000 have been infected by cholera. The United States is the top donor to humanitarian programs in Zimbabwe and has given $264 million mainly in food and health programs since October 2007.

McGee said that cholera is an easily preventable disease; adding that the Zimbabwe cholera crisis is the worst he had seen in 27 years of diplomatic service, 10 of which he has served in Africa.

"We know what the health system is like here in Zimbabwe, it has totally fallen apart," said Ambassador McGee. "Until we have something by the government, to assist the people of Zimbabwe, I don't see this crisis abating."

New cholera and water experts from U.S. aid arrived in Harare Thursday.

McGee said the United States would wait and see what happened if a unity government in Zimbabwe is sworn in, in the next two weeks.

MDC leader and prime minister designate Morgan Tsvangirai faces the national council of his party Friday to persuade them to vote for participation in an inclusIve government with ZANU-PF led by President Robert Mugabe.

In a unity government, the health and education ministers will be members of the two MDC factions.

Both sectors are paralyzed by consequences of the ever-deepening crisis in Zimbabwe. Most hospitals are closed, few teachers are at work, and there is a growing numbers of civil service strikes. Government workers say they can no longer afford to be paid in worthless Zimbabwe dollars when all goods and services are now sold in hard currency.