Page last updated at 15:10 GMT, Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Zimbabwe health crisis 'a crime'

Zimbabwe cholera patient in wheelbarrow
Physicians for Human Rights wants the UN to take over the health service

The health crisis in Zimbabwe should be the subject of an investigation by the International Criminal Court, campaign group Physicians for Human Rights says.

President Robert Mugabe's government is responsible for the collapse of the health, water and sanitation systems - violating human rights, it says.

With no functioning public hospitals, the cholera epidemic has killed far more than 2,000 people, it added.

The US-based group called for the UN to take control of the health service.

Physicians for Human Rights says the "shocking" findings in its report - Health in Ruins, a man-made disaster in Zimbabwe - should compel the international community to act.

They wanted only US dollars in cash. $3,000 for the surgeon, $140 for the nurse and $700 for the doctor who puts you to sleep
Woman wanting a caesarean

"These findings add to the growing evidence that Robert Mugabe and his regime may well be guilty of crimes against humanity," it says in the report's preface, which is signed by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and Richard Goldstone, a former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

New figures from the UN World Health Organization on Tuesday put the death toll from the cholera epidemic which broke out in August at 2,024.

The British Red Cross has warned that with the onset of the rainy season, flooding could seriously exacerbate the rate of infection as sewage may contaminate water sources further.

Health sector politicised

President Mugabe has been facing intensified criticism over the dire economic and humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe.

Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe has blamed Zimbabwe's problems on the West
He signed a power-sharing deal with his rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, in September, intended to rescue the collapsing economy but progress has since stalled over who should control key ministries.

Mr Tsvangirai has threatened to pull out of power-sharing talks unless abductions of his supporters stop.

Among its recommendations, the report says the UN Security Council and Southern African Development Community (SADC) should call on Mr Mugabe to accept the first round of last year's presidential election, which was won by Mr Tsvangirai.

The opposition leader withdrew from a run-off in June citing state-sponsored violence.

The report's findings are based on a visit to the country by four human rights investigators and two doctors in December 2008.

It says the scale and scope of the health sector's collapse last year was "unprecedented" and the government deliberately tried to downplay the cholera outbreak at first.

"The Mugabe regime has used any means at its disposal, including the politicisation of the health sector, to maintain its hold on power," the preface says.

The government had ignored warnings from civic organisations in 2006 about the possibility of a cholera outbreak because of a failure to maintain water purification systems, it said.

Mr Mugabe's allies have accused western countries of trying to use the cholera outbreak as an excuse to topple him.

They blame Zimbabwe's problems on Western sanctions.


Physicians for Human Rights says the root of the crisis is the economic collapse - citing in particular the land seizures of 2000 and failure to control hyperinflation.

Cholera: 2,204 died since August
Anthrax: Eight deaths since November
HIV/Aids: Estimated 400 deaths a day
TB: Brain-drain has practically closed the national testing laboratory which now has only one staff member
Maternal mortality: Risen from 168 per 100,000 in 1990 to 1,100 in 2005

As a result, there is more than 80% unemployment in the country and those with jobs find their salary is worthless unless they are paid in foreign currency.

A government doctor showed the PHR her payslip for November 2008; she was paid the equivalent of 32 US cents (22 pence) for the whole month.

The dollarization of the economy has meant that only a small elite now have access to healthcare.

There is now enormous pressure on mission hospitals which are having to treat patients from urban areas.

A mother who had her baby at a mission hospital told PHR investigators that she had tried to have a caesarean at the main government hospital in Harare, but it had been closed.

A private clinic would do the operation in November for "US dollars, in cash".

"$3,000 for the surgeon, $140 for the nurse and $700 for the doctor who puts you to sleep," she said.

The report also focussed on other health issues such as an anthrax outbreak, the HIV/Aids crisis, tuberculosis and maternal mortality.

It noted that life expectancy had fallen from 62 years for both sexes in 1990 to 34 years for men and 37 years for women in 2006, the world's lowest.

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