Zimbabwe cholera epidemic: over 2,000 dead

Robert Mugabe

Jonathan Clayton in Johannesburg

The cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe has now killed more than 2,000 people, it was confirmed today. 


Almost 40,000 have also now contracted the normally preventable disease as the crisis resulting from a collapsed health service threatens the entire region.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said the outbreak in Robert Mugabe's shattered nation now represented the worst in Africa in nearly a decade.

Meanwhile, the respected campaign group Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said the death toll from the disease was much higher than official data showed and accused Mr Mugabe's government of responsibility for the crisis. It called for an official investigation by the International Criminal Court and said the United Nations should take control of health in the country.

Its report, entitled Health in Ruins, a man-made disaster in Zimbabwe, followed a visit by a team of six specialists, four human rights experts and two doctors to the country last month. PHR, which won the Nobel Peace Prize for its work lobbying against land mines, said the team was shocked by what they found.

The analysis found that the scale of the health sector’s collapse was "unprecedented" and that government had deliberately tried to downplay the cholera outbreak.

"These findings add to the growing evidence that Robert Mugabe and his regime may well be guilty of crimes against humanity," states the report’s preface, which is signed by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and Richard Goldstone, a former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

The government had ignored warnings from civic organisations in 2006 about the possibility of a cholera outbreak because of a failure to maintain water purification systems, it said.

Mr Mugabe’s allies have accused western countries of trying to use the cholera outbreak as an excuse to topple him. They blame Zimbabwe’s problems on Western sanctions – an assertion dismissed by the team which said the root of the crisis was economic collapse, citing in particular the land seizures of 2000 and failure to control hyperinflation.

The WHO update showed 2,024 people had been killed by cholera from 39,806 cases. It is the worst outbreak of the disease in Africa since 1999. In normal cholera outbreaks the death toll is around one in every 100. In Zimbabwe, it is between four and five in every 100.

The waterborne disease has also spread to Zimbabwe's neighbours with at least 13 deaths and 1,419 cases in South Africa. Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia have also reported cholera cases. – Times

Post published in: Analysis

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