The U.N. Children's Fund says mothers and children are dying of cholera in Zimbabwe because basic social and health services are no longer functioning.  

The U.N. Children's Fund reports Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic is far from being contained.  The agency says the disease has spread to all 10 of the country's provinces.  It says the death toll exceeds 1,200 and the number of suspected cases is nearing 24,000.

No end in sight for epidemic

UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe Roeland Monasch says the fatality rate is five percent, which is extremely high.  And, he says he sees no end to the epidemic.

"It is still popping up in different areas of the country, which means that cholera is still not under control," Monasch said.  "The main cause is contamination of water sources.  And, of course the underlying cause is the collapse of the delivery of basic social services in the country.  Cholera is really a manifestation of much bigger problems, which means that the health services, the education systems - the maintenance of the water and sanitation facilities have all been compromised significantly.   As a result we now see cholera."

Monasch says the ability to carry out the agency's comprehensive 120-day emergency plan is severely compromised by the collapse of the country's financial, social and economic systems.

Shortage of nurses hampers service at treatment centers

For example, aid agencies have set up 40 cholera treatment centers in clinics around the country.  Monasch says each unit normally needs about 90 people to function properly, but there only are about four or five nurses available to run the centers.

He says UNICEF is collecting garbage that has not been removed from streets for months. 

"Children have much less information on how to prevent themselves," Monasch said.  "They play and roam around in the garbage.  That is also part of the reason why we are cleaning up the garbage ... because children roam around in those mountains of garbage and they have flies, etc.  And, so, definitely in certain areas there is increased risks and we are trying to help them in preventing them."  

Monasch says UNICEF says 12 water and sanitation experts were flown into Zimbabwe last week to lead the effort.  The agency has also flown in critical emergency supplies, including intravenous fluids, drip equipment, essential drugs, midwifery and obstetric kits.

He says the outlook for the coming year is grim, and nearly six million people will need food assistance in the coming weeks.