Zimbabwe: UN Calls for U.S. $6 Million to Fight Deadly Cholera Epidemic

The United Nations health agency today called on international donors for $6 million to fight Zimbabwe's worst cholera outbreak in over a decade, with the toll already reaching over 16,140 suspected cases and 775 deaths since August in the impoverished southern African country.

"This outbreak can be contained, but it will depend on many factors, in particular a coordinated approach between all health providers to make sure we are providing the right interventions where they are needed most," UN World Health Organization (WHO) country representative Custodia Mandhlate said. "Such interventions include prevention, quick case detection and control, and improved treatment."

Warning that the widespread outbreak, under-resourced and under-staffed health system, and inadequate access to safe drinking water and hygiene threaten the well-being of thousands of people, WHO is establishing a cholera control and command centre, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and other health partners to respond in a coordinated manner.

With the rainy season commencing and increased transit of people likely due to the Christmas season, there are risks for further spread of cholera if strong measures are not taken.

There are also serious regional implications, with cholera cases crossing into South Africa and Botswana. On 2 December, South African health authorities said the country had recorded 460 cholera cases and nine related deaths, mostly in border areas near Zimbabwe.

The major cause of the outbreak is the inadequate supply of clean drinking water and poor levels of hygiene. WHO is calling for improved access to oral rehydration salts for treating moderate dehydration, which is a symptom of cholera. This could quickly reduce sickness and deaths.

To help the Zimbabwean authorities and partners respond to the emergency, WHO has sent medical supplies to treat 50,000 people for common conditions for three months, as well as 3,200 moderate cases of cholera. WHO has also sent epidemiologists, a water and sanitation expert and a logistician to Harare, the capital, to strengthen response efforts on the ground.

About half the cases have been recorded in Budiriro, a heavily populated suburb on the western outskirts of Harare. Other major concentrations of reported cases include Beitbridge, on the South African border, and Mudzi, on the border with Mozambique.

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