Zimbabwe cholera death toll tops 1,700: WHO

GENEVA (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic is picking up speed, with a total of 1,732 deaths out of 34,306 cases, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday.

A cholera patient rests on her bed inside a ward of Budiriro Polyclinic in Harare December 10, 2008. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

A cholera update dated January 5 showed a further 59 deaths and 731 new cases, up from 32 deaths and 379 fresh cases reported the previous day, it said.

The epidemic is adding to the humanitarian crisis in the country, where President Robert Mugabe and the opposition are deadlocked over a power-sharing deal and the veteran leader is resisting Western calls to step down.

The waterborne disease, which causes severe diarrhea and dehydration, has spread to all of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces because of the collapse of health and sanitation systems.

On Monday Health Minister David Parirenyatwa said the epidemic could get worse as the rainy season develops.

The rainy season peaks in January or February and ends in late March. Floods, which can affect Zimbabwe’s low-lying areas, may increase the spreading of the disease.

“Social service delivery is collapsing, notably education, health and water supply infrastructure,” said the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

It said the U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) planned to help feed 4.5 million people a month until March when the main cereal harvest is due to start, while the Consortium for Southern Africa Food Security Emergency (C-SAFE) would handle another 1.8 million over the same period.

“WFP and C-SAFE pipelines combined will assist more than 50 percent of the population of Zimbabwe with food,” OCHA said.

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Reporting by Jonathan Lynn; Editing by Matthew Tostevin