Press Statement
25 SEPTEMBER 2008 
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) is saddened to learn of the unnecessary deaths of sixteen (16) people who have recently succum

According to two reports published by the state-controlled Herald newspaper this week and confirmed by Health and Child Welfare Minister David Parirenyatwa, 16 people have so far fallen victim to the cholera outbreak in Chitungwiza while 88 people have to date been hospitalized both in the dormitory town and in the capital Harare in just less than a month.

The ongoing deaths, which are a result of official and criminal negligence, have brought despair to the affected families and communities and the nation at large.

It is alarming and quite unusual for such a preventable disease to continue to claim such valuable lives in this day and age. If more than a dozen people have died from cholera in just less than a month, we can only imagine how many more are currently affected by, or at risk of contracting, this avoidable disease.

Human health and quality of life are at the centre of international efforts to develop sustainable communities and countries. Good health throughout the life-span of every man, woman and child are fundamental to ensuring that people of all ages are able to participate fully in the social, economic and political processes of their communities and country.

ZLHR reminds the government that human rights relating to health are set out in many international and regional human rights instruments and, as a State Party to these, the government of Zimbabwe is obliged to ensure the realization of the fundamental right to health.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states that: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance.

Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also states that: States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The steps to be taken … to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for the provision for the reduction of the stillbirth-rate and of infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child; the improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene; the prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases and the creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.

The responsibilities of the State are further set out in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, amongst others.

Failure by the government to guarantee and respect citizens’ right to health thus amounts to a serious violation of both local and international law.

ZLHR holds the government, and through it the local authorities and the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA), accountable for the deaths of these people as they have failed to provide basic health services, medical treatment and services, clean running water and sanitary surrounds to people in these constituencies (and others) so as to adequately respond to and contain the spread of the waterborne disease. The failure by the government to swiftly respond to the cholera epidemic is an unacceptable failure of leadership.

These wanton deaths are intolerable and shameful, and the State’s failure is merely a replication of other high level failures, where the citizenry has now been disenfranchised of almost all their basic human rights.

Measures to prevent ill-health and disease are as important as the availability of appropriate medical treatment, care and support services. It is therefore essential to take a holistic approach to the realization of the right to health whereby both prevention and care are placed at the centre of the health delivery system in the country.

In the circumstances, ZLHR calls upon the government (including local authorities) as well as ZINWA to:

    * Immediately take swift and visible corrective measures to prevent further deaths from cholera, contain the epidemic, and prevent further outbreaks.

    * Take urgent action to ensure that all affected people obtain urgent medical assistance and treatment.

    * Provide clean running water and sanitary environs to affected communities and others at risk to halt the spread of the deadly disease.

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