More than 1700 people have died in Zimbabwe since August from cholera, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says, adding that another 32 000 have been medicated for the easily treatable and preventable disease.
The WHO`s latest update on the cholera outbreak in that country says 1732 people have now died out of 34 306 diagnosed with the waterborne disease that has taken root in all ten provinces in the wake of the collapse of Zimbabwe`s health, water filtration and sanitation infrastructure.
Zimbabwe dissident radio station SW Radio Africa reports the actual death toll might be much higher as “there is no way of knowing how many infected people have died in their homes or during the journey to the handful of treatment facilities…”
It adds “medical experts had previously indicated that by December the unofficial count had already reached far beyond the 3000 mark”.
Reuters reports Zimbabwe`s health minister David Parirenyatwa on Monday said the epidemic could get worse during the rainy season that peaks in January and February and ends in late March. Floods, which can affect Zimbabwe’s low-lying areas, may increase the spreading of the disease.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) adds that the crisis is made worse by the poor diet of many Zimbabweans.
It says the World Food Programme plans to help feed 4.5 million people a month until March when the main cereal harvest is due to start, while the Consortium for Southern Africa Food Security Emergency (C-SAFE) will provide food for another 1.8 million people over the same period.
“WFP and C-SAFE pipelines combined will assist more than 50% of the population of Zimbabwe with food,” OCHA says. Zimbabwe was a net exporter of food and often described as a “food basket” until the turn of the millennium when President Robert Mugabe implemented a Nazi-style land confiscation programme that destroyed commercial farming.
Aid organisations have also deployed water purifiers to the country to replace those that have fallen in disuse or broken down.
The US Voice of America radio service adds that WHO Global Cholera Task Force head Dr. Claire-Lise Chaignat told it progress was being made despite the continuing rise in reported cases and deaths.
“We`re starting to see that the epidemic is starting now to decline. And especially when we break down the occurrence of cases by week, we see that in fact during the last week, up to the 3rd of January, there was quite an important decrease in the number of cases that have been reported from all over Zimbabwe,” she says.
There are also signs that reported cholera cases along the border with South Africa have also started to stabilise. Many Zimbabweans have crossed into South Africa seeking medical treatment for the disease.
Thirteen people have died in SA and 1400 cases have been reported, mostly in Limpopo province, directly adjacent to Zimbabwe.
Chaignat would not speculate on when the outbreak might be brought under control, adding, “We have to see day by day and week by week how the situation is improving.”
Chaignat says that the Zimbabwe government is fully cooperating in efforts to end the cholera epidemic.