The onset of seasonal rains in Zimbabwe has increased fears that the cholera epidemic could turn into a catastrophe with tens of thousands more sickened and further spread into neighbouring countries, the Red Cross federation said Tuesday.
“We’ve already got a very serious situation and rain will only make it much, much worse,” said Matthew Cochrane, a spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The rainfall, which usually brings floods to the southern African country, has started in the northern provinces, he said.
Aid agencies have been warning the rains could spread cholera further in a population already weakened by disease and hunger. The outbreak continues to grow and the fatality rate is alarmingly high, said Cochrane, who just returned from Zimbabwe.
18 000+ infected
The United Nations said Monday that 18 413 people have been infected with the waterborne disease in the country and 978 died from it. Unless aid agencies and the government massively scale up their operations, “it could be catastrophic,” said Cochrane.
The total number of cases could reach 60 000 and cholera, which has already spread into South Africa and Botswana, could spill into other neighbouring countries, he said. Botswana and South Africa are sufficiently equipped to contain the outbreak, Cochrane said. But if cholera was to spill into Zambia or Mozambique, it would be more difficult to stop it because those border regions lack the necessary health system and funds to contain it, he said.
Cholera could spread like wildfire
“If we start seeing huge numbers of people going across the border into those countries bringing with them cholera or being exposed to cholera, then it could be like a wildfire in the bush,” he said. “We really could see the whole region flare up.”
The Red Cross federation, which supports around 30 000 volunteers from the Zimbabwean Red Cross, is negotiating with the government on how to ramp up aid operations in the country, Cochrane said.
Informing people about basic hygiene, giving them access to clean water and improving sanitation and waste systems are the most urgent challenges, he added. – (Sapa-AP)
Zim's cholera orphans
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