Page last updated at 09:05 GMT, Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Zimbabwe cholera 'past its peak'

Woman feeds a child at the Budiriro Cholera clinic in Harare, Zimbabwe, in December 2008
Zimbabwe's cholera outbreak has been Africa's deadliest in 15 years

The cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe appears to have passed its peak, says the World Health Organization (WHO).

The number of new cases recorded in the week to mid-March nearly halved to 2,000, against 3,800 the preceding week and 8,000 cases a week in February.

But the agency warned the weekly statistics were not always accurate.

There have been more than 90,000 cholera cases in Zimbabwe since the start of the epidemic last August, about 4,000 of them fatal.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said official figures of the water-borne disease were probably a dramatic underestimate.

BBC's Africa analyst Martin Plaut says the epidemic had been expected to show signs of ebbing towards the end of Zimbabwe's rainy season in March.

"The situation with the current cholera outbreak is improving," the WHO said.

"The overall trend over the last two months is of a decreasing number of cases and deaths," it added.

But the agency said the number of reported cases was on the rise again in and around the capital, Harare, despite the decline recorded in nearly all provinces.

"The risk of the outbreak restarting in those areas of the country is real," the WHO warned.

The deadliest outbreak of cholera in Africa in 15 years has spread to neighbouring countries including South Africa.

The epidemic has been fuelled by the collapse of Zimbabwe's water, sanitation and health systems.

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