December 4, 2008
Cholera Outbreak in Zimbabwe Declared An Emergency
Zimbabwe's health minister has announced a national emergency resulting from a deadly cholera outbreak and called for international assistance.
Health minister David Parirenyatwa said health officials were suffering from a staff shortage, state media reported on Thursday. The outbreak has claimed the lives of more than 560 people.
The declaration came one day after a riot began between police officers and health care workers who were demonstrating for better pay and working conditions in the capital of Harare. When police arrived, many health workers dispersed. Police reportedly assaulted several women, some of whom were pregnant.
Earlier in the day, armed men identifying themselves as the police officers took a human rights activist, Jestina Mukoko, from her home in what Amnesty International called "part of an established pattern of harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders." Mukoko is director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, an organization that has been documenting rights abuses.
The health minister said there had been a drop in cholera cases in all provinces except Harare.
"Our central hospitals are literally not functioning," Health Minister Parirenyatwa told state newspaper The Herald.
The outbreak began in August and has killed at least 565 people since then, although officials in the region say the death toll could be much higher. At least 12,545 cases of cholera have been reported since the outbreak began.
Parirenyatwa said outside help "will help us reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with the current socio-economic environment by December 2009."
He also cited the critical shortage of staff in hospitals adding that those remaining had "no zeal" to work, the Herald said.
"Our central hospitals are literally not functioning. Our staff is demotivated and we need your support to ensure that they start coming to work and our health system is revived," he told the Herald.
On Wednesday, the European Commission said it would provide more than $12m for drugs and clean water in Zimbabwe.
Most of Zimbabwe's capital has been without water since Sunday. State media said the water was cut because of a lack of purification tablets.
This week, Unicef, the European Commission and the International Red Cross announced an emergency response to the crisis.
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