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Zimbabwe 'asks for cholera help'

Zimbabweans wait to collect water  in Harare
Some 12,545 cholera cases have been recorded since August, the UN says

Zimbabwe's government has asked for urgent international help to tackle its cholera outbreak, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

At a meeting with aid agencies, Health Minister David Parirenyatwa is reported to have asked for medicine, equipment and funds to pay medical staff.

Cholera has killed at least 565 people in Zimbabwe since August, the UN says.

Ministers previously said the outbreak was under control. They blamed it on Western sanctions on President Mugabe.

On Wednesday, police in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, broke up a protest march by doctors and nurses angered at the worsening outbreak.

Witnesses said officers used batons to disperse and beat up the crowd of health workers. The authorities also prevented trade union members staging a protest over the country's banking meltdown.

Dr Malvern Nyamutora, vice president of the junior doctors' association, said they had asked for permission to protest but were denied.

They went ahead with the protest, but before they could put up their banners and placards "the brutal police force of Zimbabwe had pounced on us," he told the BBC's World Today programme.

One of his colleagues suffered a perforated eardrum after being hit by a baton.

"They just came, they didn't explain anything, they just said 'disperse' and started hitting everyone, and people were running around the streets of Harare."

Without water

At the aid meeting, Mr Parirenyatwa said his government needed water as well as sanitation equipment, the WHO's communications officer in Harare, Paul Garwood, told the BBC.

In some parts of town there is raw sewage running down streets
Harare diarist Esther

"What the government has done today is request support and we're very keen to provide that support," he said.

"It was the first time where the minister has called all the parties together to detail all the needs of the government."

Mr Garwood added that the WHO had flown enough anti-cholera supplies and medicines to Harare that day to treat up to 2,000 moderate cases.

Some 12,545 cases of cholera have been recorded in Zimbabwe since August, according to the latest statement from the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Most of Zimbabwe's capital has been without water since Sunday.

"In some parts of town there is raw sewage running down streets," BBC News website Harare diarist Esther says.

The spread of cholera has been aided by the collapse of Zimbabwe's health and sanitation systems amid a prolonged economic and political crisis.

Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that the Limpopo River, on Zimbabwe's border with South Africa, has been contaminated with cholera.

South African local health department spokesman Phuti Seloba has warned people not to use the river water at all.

Cases of cholera have been reported either side of Zimbabwe's borders with South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique.

The BBC's Peter Biles reports from the South African town of Musina, near the border with Zimbabwe, that cholera patients are being treated at an emergency centre on the lawn in front of the hospital.

One cholera victim from Harare told him that on Zimbabwe's side of the border, toilets had not functioned for a month, and people were "defecating everywhere".

Meanwhile Amnesty International said a human rights activist was abducted at dawn from her home in Norton, south of Harare, by a group of at least 12 armed plain-clothes men, who identified themselves as policemen.

The organisation challenged Zimbabwe's government immediately to disclose the whereabouts of Jestina Mukoko, who is the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project.

Shortages

The government has blamed its crisis on Western sanctions it says are aimed at trying to bring down President Robert Mugabe.

Cholera victim
The health sector has been unable to cope with the cholera outbreak

But the sanctions imposed after allegations of electoral fraud and political violence are aimed at Mr Mugabe and his close associates and consist of travel bans and a freeze on their foreign assets.

Amid Zimbabwe's severe economic crisis, central bank governor Gideon Gono will lift import duty on basic goods, the state-run Herald newspaper reports.

"I believe this is the best Christmas present we can present to consumers this festive season," the Herald quotes him as saying.

The latest estimated annual inflation rate was 231,000,000%, and just one adult in 10 is thought to have a regular job.

Updated cholera map



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