The International Committee of the Red Cross said it has begun disinfecting homes in Zimbabwe's capital in an effort to battle the cholera epidemic.  Red Cross officials said the number of cases is soaring and more needs to be done to halt the spread of the disease.  

The United Nations reported there now are more than 20,000 cases of cholera and more than 1,100 deaths from the disease in Zimbabwe.  The largest number of cases have been in the capital, Harare.

That is one of the principal reasons the International Committee of the Red Cross is mounting its disinfecting campaign there.

Red Cross Spokeswoman, Anna Schaaf, said the Red Cross has been providing assistance to cholera victims since the outbreak of the disease in August.  But, she said, it has decided to broaden its response to prevent more people from becoming infected.

"We are basically joining forces now with health workers from Beatrice hospital and Budiriro Polyclinic in Harare to go to the homes of those who are patients in those clinics and disinfect the homes and talk to the communities in the suburbs of Harare in order to explain to them how they can avoid getting infected.  So, we are spraying the homes and basically trying to break the transmission cycle of the cholera bacteria," she said.  

Schaaf said toilets, blankets and clothing are being sprayed with a chlorine-based disinfectant.

Zimbabwe's crumbling health care system has faced difficulty dealing with the crisis, which President Robert Mugabe's government has blamed on the West.  Earlier this month, the president denied there was a cholera outbreak, but officials have since said that he was being sarcastic.

In addition to disinfecting the homes, she said Red Cross staff and city health workers are advising the families of patients and neighborhood residents on how to avoid catching the disease.  She said aid workers also take people who have contracted cholera to treatment centers.

In the coming days, she said aid workers will distribute water-purification tablets, buckets and soap to promote sanitation in affected communities.  The ICRC also is providing protective clothing, as well as other supplies and transportation for people working in this campaign.

Cholera can spread from contaminated water and bad sanitation.   This week, the Red Cross donated pumps, water-testing equipment and spare parts to the Zimbabwe National Water Authority.  

The main water-treatment plant serves Harare and the surrounding area.  The Red Cross said the equipment will improve the plant's efficiency.