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Doctors Without Borders Urges Zimbabwe To Open Up To Relief Organizations

The international humanitarian group Medecins Sans Frontières on Tuesday urged the new Zimbabwean government constituted last week in Harare to urgently guarantee unrestricted access to relief organizations to address a devastating cholera and hunger crisis.

Medicins Sans Frontières - French for Doctors Without Borders - issued the appeal to Harare with the issuance of a report titled "Beyond Cholera – Zimbabwe’s Worsening Crisis," as correspondent Benedict Nhlapho of VOA's Studio 7 reported.

MSF President Christophe Fournier said conditions in the country were comparable to those in post-conflict situations. "At the end of the day for the patients, it's the same or even worse in Zimbabwe," Fournier told journalists in a Johannesburg news conference.

He said the cholera epidemic is "only the most visible manifestation of a much broader crisis in the whole country," noting that the public health system "is down, it has collapsed."

MSF Zimbabwe head Manuel Lopez said additional assistance to suffering Zimbabweans could not await developments on the political front, where a unity government has just come into being after months of haggling between the long-ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe and the Movement for Democratic Change of Morgan Tsvangirai.

Expanded relief "has to come independent from anything happening" in the political context, Lopez said, because the health system is shut down and people are dying as a result.

The World Health Organization issued an update putting the cholera death toll at 3,688 as of Monday from a total caseload of 77,650 in the past seven months.

Though reports from health experts have been less than optimistic lately, Harare Deputy Mayor Emmanuel Chiroto told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that residents can expect cleaner water now that the city controls the supply.

Control of many municipal water supplies was taken over in 2006 by the Zimbabwe National Water Authority, under which infrastructure crumbled and water quality plunged.

British humanitarian organization ActionAid said it has launched a campaign to prevent outbreaks of cholera in communities not yet hit by the epidemic, with activists going door-to-door to offer personal hygiene tips and other ways to avoid contracting cholera.

ActionAid Zimbabwe Cholera Response Coordinator George Matonhodze expanded on the program in an interview with VOA reporter Joe De Capua.

Though the cholera epidemic rages on, more patients are surviving to recount their ordeal thanks to interventions by Zimbabwean and international humanitarian organizations, as correspondent Netsai Mlilo of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported from Norton.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...