Newsnet: Zimbabwe's Cholera Crisis

February 2, 2009

Zimbabwe's raging cholera epidemic has become one of the world's largest outbreaks of the disease ever recorded, infecting more than 60,000 people and claiming more than 3,100 lives.

 

 

Fueled by economic and social crises, a lack of safe drinking water and sanitation, and a disintegrating health system, the epidemic has spread to all of Zimbabwe's 10 provinces.


This major health emergency " and the response of UNICEF, the World Health Organization and other agencies " has fortunately received a strong level of media coverage from a group of news organizations that reliably cover developing world issues and also from a broad spectrum of other outlets. Agence France Presse, IRIN News, Reuters, and Voice of America have been consistently following the outbreak, and The Associated Press, BBC, CNN and NPR have carried reports. A lot of the coverage has placed the cholera outbreak in the context of Zimbabwe's intense political and economic turmoil. PBS's Frontline/World has run several in-depth stories on Zimbabwe's numerous crises, including this riveting account.

A lot of the coverage has placed the cholera outbreak in the context of Zimbabwe's intense political and economic turmoil. PBS's Frontline/World has run several in-depth stories on Zimbabwe's numerous crises, including this riveting account.

 

At a cholera treatment centre in the town in Zimbabwe, a girl receives intravenous fluids through a drip into her arm. Intravenous administration of rehydration solution is needed in severe cholera cases to replace fluids.

ZIMBABWE: At a cholera treatment center in the town of Chegutu in Mashonaland West Province, a girl receives intravenous fluids through a drip into her arm. Intravenous administration of rehydration solution is needed in severe cholera cases to replace the fluids lost through diarrhea and vomiting. A large hole is cut into her portable bed, with a bucket placed underneath, for patients who are too weak to walk to a proper latrine.© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-1344/CHRISTINE NESBITT

 

An acute infection of the small intestine, cholera is a fast-acting disease that can induce extreme diarrhea and severe dehydration. It is treatable and preventable, but if not addressed, can quickly lead to death"sometimes in a matter of hours.

People get the disease when they ingest water or food that is contaminated with bacteria called Vibrio cholerae. The bacteria usually come from the human waste of those who have already been infected"which is why cholera flourishes in places without adequate sanitation.

UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman went to Zimbabwe last month and announced that the UN will provide $5 million to help shore up the country's deteriorating health system. The first head of a UN agency to visit the country in three years, Veneman called the cholera outbreak the tip of the iceberg,