Page last updated at 13:03 GMT, Sunday, 21 December 2008

Charity warns on Zimbabwe cholera

Zimbabwe cholera victim
The UN has warned the total number of cases could reach 60,000

The international medical charity, Medecins Sans Frontieres, predicts that the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe will last well into 2009.

Manuel Lopez, the head of MSF in the country, told the BBC the epidemic was still at a critical level and would not subside until the rains end in March.

Even then, he said, the lack of clean drinking water means that cholera will be endemic in Zimbabwe.

The disease has claimed 1,123 lives and infected more than 20,000 people.

Mr Lopez says so many clinics and hospitals have closed that large sections of the population have no access to medical care.

"The ministry of health has declared a national emergency," said Mr Lopez.

"So it is very clear that the situation is very, very critical in terms of health people's access to health care."

Latest UN figures include a new outbreak of hundreds of cases in Chegutu, near the capital Harare, which has been worst hit by the disease.

MSF says that when it arrived in Chegutu 10 days ago, it found the local facilities completely overwhelmed.

Patients were lying on the floor, some next to dead bodies, sanitation services were non-existent, and there was no water and no food to be found.

"The situation was absolute chaos," said Luis Maria Tello, the MSF Emergency Team Medical Coordinator.

"There were no beds and patients everywhere. People were dying of thirst because there was no water."

The disposal of the dead was one of the first priorities set by the emergency team.

"Dead people were lying everywhere," said Mr Tello.

'War words'

The easily preventable disease has spread because of the collapse of health services and water sanitation in Zimbabwe.

The UN World Health Organization has said the total number of cases could reach 60,000 unless the epidemic is stopped.

Cholera patient being treated in Harare - 10/12/2008
South Africa's Red Cross is rushing much-needed medicine to Zimbabwe

A week ago Mr Mugabe said the outbreak had been "arrested".

He claimed Western powers wanted to use an epidemic as an excuse to invade Zimbabwe and topple him.

Meanwhile, South African ruling ANC leader Jacob Zuma said in a radio interview there was no reason for sending troops to Zimbabwe.

"Why military intervention when there is no war?" he told South Africa's 702 Talk Radio.

"We should be pressurising them to see the light."

Zimbabwe claimed earlier this week that Botswana, which has joined growing international calls for Mr Mugabe to quit, was hosting military training camps for MDC rebels.

But the current chairperson of the the Southern African Development Community, South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, said on Wednesday: "We never believed that."

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