An outbreak of the deadly cattle-born disease anthrax is threatening to turn into Zimbabwe's worst yet, compounding a seven-week national epidemic of cholera, an international aid agency warned Monday.
The British-based Save the Children Fund said health workers had reported 32 cases of human infection, and three deaths of people who had probably been eating meat from the carcasses of cattle infected with the disease in remote north-west Zimbabwe.
The disease had already killed 150 livestock, two elephants, 70 hippo and 50 buffalo, and threatens to wipe out 60 000 cattle in the region.
Spokeswoman Rachel Pounds said the outbreak could be the worst since the country's civil war for black majority rule that preceded independence in 1980, when hundreds of people were reported to have died.
There was a risk that the disease, which is usually fatal if not treated with heavy antibiotic doses, could spread out of the Binga district in the Zambezi river valley, into the tourist town of Victoria Falls and across the border into neighbouring Zambia, she said.
Traders had been seen trucking potentially infected meat from Binga to Victoria Falls.
Cholera spreading fast
A seven-week epidemic of cholera, the highly infectious diarrhoeal disease, has spread rapidly through the country, killing 425 people by Friday and almost doubling the number of infected people to 11,000 in a week, according to official figures.
"Many families in the Zambezi Valley are so hungry they are taking meat from the carcasses of their animals, even if they know it's diseased, and feeding it to their children," Pounds said. "Families no longer have choice here. Even if they know they shouldn't sell their livestock, it's often the only way of making money to feed themselves."
Zimbabwe is in the grip of a deadly complex of crises, with a collapsing economy, famine with nearly 4 million people facing starvation, the shut-down of infrastructure including hospitals and schools and the failure of services like water, electricity, sewerage disposal and refuse collection.
"Quarantines (against the movement of potentially infected meat) may be in place, but Zimbabwe's systems have collapsed," Pounds said. – (Sapa/DPA)