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Cholera Deaths and Cases Continue to Rise in Zimbabwe

The World Health Organization says the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe is continuing to escalate. WHO reports the disease now has killed 3,371 people and infected 67,945 since August.

The nightmare scenario predicted by the World Health Organization several weeks ago has now gone well beyond its original mark of 60,000 cases. WHO says the epidemic is present in all provinces of the country and shows little sign of abating.

However, WHO offers one ray of hope. Spokesman Paul Garwood says the fatality ratio of 3.9 percent based on the number of reported deaths and cases remains high. But, he says this is slightly lower than the fatality rate of the previous week, which was 4.5 percent.

Garwood says the number of cholera deaths in Zimbabwe remains unacceptably high. He notes that cholera normally claims less than one percent of its victims.

"But, the mortality of those people receiving medical treatment in cholera treatment centers and units and other health facilities remained roughly the same compared to last week at about 1.4 percent," Garwood says. "So, we are seeing in treatment centers where people are able to access care that the level of case fatalities per those who seek care is getting lower. That is a positive sign."

Nevertheless, he cautions people against harboring a sense of premature optimism. He says people who are able to seek treatment in one of the country's 270 cholera treatment centers stand a greater chance of surviving then do people who are unable to access these facilities.

"The case fatality rate in community settings has been up to three times higher than in institutional settings and the health facility settings where people have been receiving care from nurses and doctors," he says.

Garwood says most doctors and nurses in Zimbabwe are still not going to work because they are not being paid. He says this remains one of the biggest challenges facing humanitarian agencies that are working to contain the epidemic.

He says cholera cannot be defeated if there are no medical workers available to care for sick people.

United Nations and other agencies blame the growing epidemic on Zimbabwe's shattered social and economic system. They say the collapse of the country's health care, sewage and water systems are behind the seemingly unstoppable spread of the disease.