Zimbabwe’s Cholera Epidemic Escalates
The number of Zimbabweans affected by the country’s ongoing cholera epidemic has nearly doubled since early January. The latest report from the World Health Organization indicates that more than 60,000 people have been infected and more than 3100 have died since August of last year. WHO forecasts that the epidemic will continue to escalate, affecting surrounding countries as well as Zimbabwe, unless “drastic action is taken by all players in this crisis.”
At present, WHO urges the following measures to stifle the spread of disease:
- Improve awareness of cholera prevention and treatment, particularly among residents in remote sections of the country.
- Increase the availability of oral rehydration salts and chlorine tablets within communities to enable a rapid response.
- Mobilize financial resources to pay Zimbabwe’s healthcare workers, many of whom cannot pay for basic needs like transportation to work. WHO concludes, “This vacuum in availability of national health staff is a prime factor in the increasing number of cholera sufferers dying.”
- Increase public access to nongovernmental organizations, like Médecins Sans Frontieres (aka Doctors Without Borders), which fill the current void in national services.
- Strengthen the “multisectoral” response of the United Nations, nongovernmental groups, donors, and the Zimbabwe government.
WHO’s Assistant Director-General for the group’s Health Action Crises Cluster, Dr. Eric Larouche advised, “Political differences need to be put aside, economic barriers overcome, health services in the country’s periphery strengthened and community awareness to respond enhanced to save many more people from dying due to a disease that can be readily prevented and treated.” Although the case fatality rate of Zimbabwe’s epidemic has decreased slightly, reports WHO, it remains higher than 5%,* and the death rate at the community level is approximately 3 times higher than that in health facilities.
* The “acceptable” death rate is less than 1%.
Map showing spread of cholera in Zimbabwe as of December 8, 2008, from Wikipedia.