Zimbabwe cholera threat shifts to rural areas

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic is spreading to rural areas because people with the preventable disease have quit heavily-infected urban centers for the countryside, an agency official said Wednesday.

United Nations agencies say cholera has killed nearly 2,500 people and infected more than 40,000 in the Southern African country, where the health and sanitation systems have collapsed due to an economic crisis.

The disease has also spread to neighboring countries, including regional powerhouse, South Africa.

Critics blame the crisis on the policies of President Robert Mugabe, a charge the veteran ruler denies.

A power-sharing deal signed by Mugabe and his opposition rival Morgan Tsvangirai on September 15 raised hopes Zimbabwe’s ruined economy could be rescued, and the humanitarian crisis arrested. But the pact appears to be unraveling as the two fight over the control of powerful ministries.

“The cholera threat has not subsided,” Wilfred Sikukula, World Vision Zimbabwe’s cholera response manager, told Reuters. He said cholera was not under control even though international agencies had mobilized resources to fight it.

“What has happened is that while it initially affected mostly urban areas, it has now shifted to rural areas, where some affected people have migrated to. We continue to have reports of new outbreaks in villages.”

World Vision Zimbabwe received $4.7 million worth of cholera drugs, water purification chemicals, water tanks and body bags Wednesday, donated by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and World Vision Canada.

Sikukula said the goods would be distributed to the families and communities of more than 75,000 vulnerable children.

Reporting by Nelson Banya