17 Jan 2009

Death toll climbs in Zimbabwe cholera epidemic

9:29 pm on 17 January 2009

The death toll from cholera in Zimbabwe has reached 2,225, the United Nations said Friday, warning that prevention measures are not working.

The UN's humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) said in Geneva that a growing number of deaths were occurring beyond the reach of health workers in rural areas, with 87% of the country's districts now affected by the disease.

The number of people affected by the disease is has risen to 42,675.

The UN has pointed to a "meltdown" in social and economic facilities in Zimbabwe, hit by political crisis and runaway inflation, that stopped the provision of clean water and proper hygiene, generating a cycle of "infection and re-infection", especially in rural areas.

Meanwhile, most of the working trucks left in the country are being snapped up for a massive food aid operation that is targeting six million people this month alone, leaving essential medical supplies by the wayside.

The OCHA said red tape was blocking the importation of more vehicles that were "desperately needed".

An added concern is the imminent flood cyclone season, which stands to worsen the impact of cholera, a water-borne disease.

Zimbabwe's government this week put out flood warnings as rivers swelled, the UN said.

On Thursday, neighbouring countries sounded the alarm about the rising number of infections, fearing an ever increasing regional spillover.