Why Cholera Will Again Soon Break Out in Zimbabwe

Physicians for Human Rights anticipates in Zimbabwe an imminent outbreak of cholera. Cholera has killed more than 4,200 people there and infected another 100,000 since August 2008,?because the coalition government has failed to address the underlying causes of this entirely preventable disease.In our January 2009 report, Health in Ruins: A Man-Made Disaster in Zimbabwe, PHR showed how the 2008 cholera outbreak was?a direct outcome of the malfeasance of the Mugabe regime. ?We detailed numerous reasons (listed below) for the disease outbreak and spread. Humanitarian organizations like MSF, UNICEF and OCHA, have greatly improved access to care for cholera patients in Zimbabwe and helped halt disease spread; however, as the government has not adequately addressed some of the underlying causes (1-7, below), PHR believes the likelihood of increased cholera deaths is high once the rainy season begins in November. Time is running out before the last chance for preventive action.

Causes of the 2008 Cholera Outbreak in Zimbabwe

  1. Dumping human waste into Harare's main water reservoir
  2. Willfully allowing water supplies to go untreated
  3. Failure to procure water treatment chemicals
  4. Failure to maintain reticulated water systems
  5. Failure to maintain inoperable sewerage systems
  6. Failure to provide adequate sanitation
  7. Failure to provide access to alternative sources of potable water (e.g., bore holes)
  8. Failure to heed warnings from civil society of an impending outbreak
  9. Shuttering of public hospitals and clinics / denial of access to treatment
  10. Prohibitive transport costs to cholera clinics / denial of access to treatment
  11. Failure to pay healthcare professionals
  12. Insufficiently trained medical staff to treat cholera patients
  13. Failure to secure essential medicines and supplies
  14. Failure to launch an early public health education campaign
  15. Obstruction and politicization of humanitarian aid
  16. Denial of access to humanitarian organizations

Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease caused by bacteria in contaminated water and leads to severe dehydration and death within several hours if not treated quickly. It spreads through water and food contaminated with human feces from people infected with the bacteria. Treatment is simply oral rehydration (fluids that contain salt and sugar). Epidemics arise almost uniquely when a government fails to maintain water, sanitation and sewerage systems—for example, during times of war or natural disaster.

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