ZIMBABWE Deadly cholera epidemic threatens to become an annual crisis

 Zimbabwe
 Emergency Response
 18th Feb 2009

HARARE, ZIMBABWE (February 18, 2009) – A serious lack of funding and resources to repair the broken water and sanitation infrastructure that is fuelling the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe threatens to make the deadly epidemic an annual tragedy, warns CARE International, one of the largest aid agencies in Zimbabwe.

The cholera outbreak has long passed the worst-case scenario threshold, and become the worst Africa has seen in 15 years. More than 78,882 cases have been reported in Zimbabwe, and 3,712 deaths.

Most of the limited funding for the crisis to date is being used for emergency treatment of cholera patients, and to respond to outbreaks by providing temporary supplies of clean water, chlorine tablets and soap. But without sustainable clean water and sanitation facilities, patients who are treated at cholera treatment centres can return home only to be re-infected because their only sources of water are contaminated.

“Every single day, people are coming up to us, saying ‘help us!’. But we don’t have the supplies people need and we don’t have the money,” said Stephen Gwynne-Vaughan, Country Director for CARE in Zimbabwe. “Water and sanitation systems need to be repaired now, or this will become an annual crisis and more people will die. And that’s unacceptable. Cholera is treatable. No one needs to die from cholera.”

The United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund recently announced an additional $11 million for Zimbabwe, but on the whole funding for the cholera response has been slow to materialize.

To date, CARE has raised only a fraction of the $3.15 million it needs to provide urgently-needed activities such as rehabilitation of boreholes, water and sanitation for schools and health clinics, water tankering, and distribution of soap, water storage containers, water purification tablets and oral rehydration salts. People in Zimbabwe, a country crippled by unprecedented inflation, food shortages and unemployment, don’t have the resources to implement this work on their own, said Gwynne-Vaughan.

“Hygiene education messages and treatment have to be combined with the tools people need to actually practice proper hygiene. What’s the point of telling people to wash their hands, if they don’t have any soap? If they can’t afford to fix their well or purify their water? Without this, people are being re-infected,” said Gwynne-Vaughan.

Health experts predict that the crisis will wind down at the end of the rainy season in April. But without sustainable access to clean water and sanitation facilities, conditions will be set for the outbreak to repeat itself again next year.

About CARE: CARE is one of the world’s largest independent aid organizations providing emergency relief and development projects in nearly 70 countries around the world. CARE has been working in Zimbabwe since 1992, implementing programs in small economic development, agriculture and natural resource management, water and sanitation, health and emergency response.

Media contact:
Melanie Brooks, Media and Communications Coordinator (Geneva)
Mobile: +41.79.590.3047 e-mail: brooks@careinternational.org

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