The cholera death toll in Zimbabwe has risen above 1 000, the United Nations said Thursday, as one expert warned that the country is ill-prepared to deal with outbreaks of other diseases.
A total of 1 123 cholera deaths was recorded by Wednesday, an increase of 133 in two days, the UN humanitarian office in Geneva said.
The latest figures, which are compiled by the World Health Organisation, show that the number of cases has risen to 20 896 since the start of the cholera outbreak in August. On Monday, health officials had tallied 18 413 cases and 978 deaths.
Aid workers have struggled to keep up with the spread of the disease, partly because reports of new cases have been slow to come in from rural Zimbabwe. One WHO cholera expert, Dominique Legros, said a new command and control centre that opened this week will speed up reporting of outbreaks, but the lack of basic communications equipment in outlying areas remains a problem.
Other outbreaks expected
Legros warned that Zimbabwe's fragile health system means the country is ill-prepared at the moment to deal with other health emergencies.
"We can expect other outbreaks of infectious disease such as measles occurring in the near future," he told The Associated Press, adding that vaccination programs and HIV treatment have also come to a virtual standstill.
WHO says cholera is spreading in Zimbabwe because of badly maintained sanitation systems, rampant inflation that has hit doctors and nurses, and a lack of clean drinking water.
Unlike many other African countries, Zimbabwe has modern laboratories and well-trained health workers, said Legros. But according to WHO, many cannot survive on the meagre pay they receive, with some unable even to afford the cost of travelling to work.
"For the last few months everything has basically stopped," said Legros. "There are ghost hospitals."
The outbreak of cholera, which spreads through contaminated water, has hit Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, the hardest, the agency said. It warned that supplies of intravenous fluids, used to treat the disease, could run out early next year unless new stocks are brought in.
Spreading to neighbouring countries
The problems have spread to neighbouring countries. South Africa is caring for hundreds of Zimbabwean cholera victims at the border. In Mozambique, health authorities said Thursday that cholera cases had been detected in six of that country's 11 provinces, and that in provinces bordering Zimbabwe the source was believed to have Zimbabweans or Mozambicans who had travelled to Zimbabwe. Cholera, though, crops up in Mozambique regularly due to poor sanitation and lack of clean drinking water. - (Frank Jordans/Sapa)
Cholera death toll passes 1 000