Cholera spreads to SAfrican district

December 11, 2008 12:00 am

, MUSINA, Dec 11 – South Africa has declared a cholera disaster on its border with Zimbabwe, as a spillover from a deadly epidemic strains health resources, a government official said Thursday.

"The provincial government took a decision that the whole of the Vhembe district should be declared a disaster area," northern Limpopo provincial government spokesman Mogale Nchabeleng told AFP.

The Vhembe district includes Musina, a bustling town at the 24 hour border crossing between South Africa and the cholera-hit town of Beitbridge in Zimbabwe.

The disaster status would free up funding and focus relief efforts, Nchabeleng said.

"It helps to cut on government bureaucracy and speed up the pace of the response."

"We are likely to experience problems," he said, adding "the sooner you come in, the better. It’s under control but we would not want to leave to chance."

South African Health Minister Barbara Hogan visited the affected region on Wednesday to assess the situation.

Musina is also the entry point for thousands of illegal immigrants fleeing the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, where the latest United Nations death toll has risen to 775 lives.

"These people come in infected and have to be treated. That has been a strain on the capacity of our health infrastructure to respond," said Nchabaleng.

Eight people have died of cholera in Limpopo province, two of them South African, while 664 cases have been treated, local health officials said.

Aid agencies have warned of Zimbabwe’s cholera crisis spreading to neighbouring countries, and the regions’s shared waterway, the Limpopo River, has tested positive for cholera.

The cholera epidemic is the latest turmoil to hit Zimbabwe where a power-sharing deal signed about three months ago has floundered over the distribution of key ministries between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

The United Nations said that more than 16,000 cholera cases have been reported in Zimbabwe.


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