Zimbabwe says cholera epidemic 'has ended'
Harare: Zimbabwe's Health Minister said on Thursday a cholera epidemic had ended, after at more than 4,200 deaths and 100,000 cases since last August, but warned new outbreaks remain a threat.
"The nation experienced the worst cholera outbreak between August and June 2009, but the epidemic has successfully been contained and has ended," Health Minister Henry Madzorera said in the official Herald newspaper.
"As the pandemic comes to an end, all districts, provinces and cities will... plan forward for future outbreaks, which have a strong likelihood of recurring in view of continued sewerage and water problems," he added.
The outbreak erupted in August as post-election violence was sweeping the country, while public services including hospitals and clinics shut down.
The diarrhoeal disease thrives in places without proper sanitary facilities. Cholera is deadly but easily preventable with clean water and proper sanitation.
The outbreak began in Chitungwiza, a dormitory town outside the Zimbabwean capital whose sewer system has been overburdened by a booming population and experiences perennial water shortages.
Cholera then spread to 55 of the country's 62 provinces.
Since Zimbabwe's unity government formed in February, hospitals have re-opened as doctors and nurses resumed work, though conditions remain grim with little access to medicine and supplies.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the cholera epidemic was the worst to hit Africa in 15 years and warned the disease had now entrenched itself as an endemic illness in Zimbabwe.
"Our concern is that the fundamental issues -- access to sanitation and access to clean water -- haven't been meaningfully addressed," said IFRC spokesman Matthew Cochrane.
"Cholera is now endemic in Zimbabwe, like it is in most countries in this region."
"Effort has to now be made that communities have access to basic amenities like clean water and sanitation."
Zimbabwe is trying to raise more than eight billion dollars over three years to revive public services, including repairs to sewage lines that leak through populous neighbourhoods.
Fears for a new outbreak will heighten around the rainy season, which runs from November through February, when poor drainage last year left filthy pools of water in the streets.
Zimbabwe had suffered cholera cases before, but usually in rural areas. Now the disease appears more urban, with densely populated neighbourhoods most at risk.
The country's health system was once the envy of Africa, but Zimbabwe depended almost entirely on international assistance to contain the cholera outbreak.
Cochrane said that more work still needed to be done to dig new water wells and ensure sanitation, even as the government works to rebuild sewage and water lines across the country -- a process that could take years.