Cholera infection rate climbs as UN cleared to assess crisis

By Alex Bell
03 February 2009

The cholera infection rate is steadily rising this week, with almost 2000 cases added to the official figures released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday.

The group announced on Tuesday that the infection rate had climbed to almost 65 000 cases, reporting 1792 more cases since Monday. At the same time, 66 new deaths have been reported in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 3295. With the infection rate now rising beyond the ‘worst case scenario’ of 60 000 cases, predicted earlier this year, there are fears that the worst is still yet to come, and WHO officials have called for ‘drastic action’ to tackle the continued spread of the disease.

The new figures come as Robert Mugabe has finally consented to allow a top level United Nations assessment team to tour Zimbabwe to find ways to curb the cholera epidemic as well as the devastating hunger crisis. Critical food shortages across the country have seen the number of Zimbabweans in need of food aid rise to almost seven million people, and the situation has forced the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) to half its monthly rations of maize to cater for as many people as possible.

WFP officials have said the ration cut will allow the group to reach an estimated 5.1 million starving Zimbabweans, but have also acknowledged that the new ration ‘falls below what is considered a survival ration.’ Those fortunate enough to receive food packages ‘would now have to find additional means to stay alive,’ WFP regional spokesperson Richard Lee told the UK’s Guardian news service. But in a country where there are few food sources and many families have been forced to survive on scavenged fruit and seeds, ‘additional means’ will be hard to find.

At the same time, as the food crisis continues to worsen, there are fears for those Zimbabweans not included on the WFP ‘vulnerable’ list. SW Radio Africa has received numerous reports of the number of people not receiving aid and there are concerns over the food security of the millions that will not be reached by the WFP and other aid groups.

Spokesperson for the National Association of NGOs in Zimbabwe (NANGO), Fambai Ngirande, explained on Tuesday that food insecurity in the country has increased, citing the dollarisation of the economy and “yet another failed harvest.” He explained that widespread hunger has made Zimbabweans more susceptible to disease, saying ‘people are dying because they are so weak,’ and added that the whole population has now become a ‘vulnerable group.’

SW Radio Africa Zimbabwe news
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