HARARE, November 26 – Zimbabwe’s cholera outbreak is "under control," the deputy health minister said on Wednesday, rejecting calls to declare a state of emergency after the disease claimed more than 360 lives.
"The situation is under control. There is no need to declare it," Edwin Muguti told AFP, and blamed the situation on sanctions imposed by Western nations on President Robert Mugabe’s regime.
"These are results of punitive illegal sanctions imposed on us by the West. … I am sure they like what they are seeing from this outbreak," Muguti said.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned in Geneva on Tuesday that the outbreak could snowball across southern Africa, pointing to reports from South Africa’s health ministry of suspected cholera cases in Botswana.
"The cholera outbreak is not yet under control. Reported cases have reached 8,887, with 366 deaths as at November 25. This is an increase of 1,604 cases and 53 more deaths," said OCHA, reporting the new toll figures for Zimbabwe.
Four people – two Zimbabweans and two South Africans – have died of cholera in the past days after they returned from Zimbabwe, South African health officials said.
Douglas Gwatidzo, chairman of Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights said: "We don’t know how many people they want to die before they declare this outbreak a national disaster. We have had our people dying in other countries as a result of this cholera.
"There are sewer pipes burst almost everywhere, water supplies erratic and in some cases non-existent," he told AFP.
He said since there have been about 6,000 infections "about 10 percent of those people infected could have died."
Khonzani Ncube, a local administrative clerk in Bulawayo, the country’s second city said since the outbreak begun, at least four people have died.
"Since the outbreak begun, the city has attended to 29 cases and we have recorded four deaths," he said.
Oxfam on Tuesday called on Zimbabwe to declare a national health emergency, warning that the cholera epidemic could worsen due to the impending monsoon.
The spike in the death toll came as negotiators for the nation’s political rivals met in a new round of talks in South Africa to get a stalled unity government off the ground.
The European Union and the United States imposed limited sanctions on key officials and allies of Mugabe’s government after the widely contested 2002 poll which returned the veteran leader to office.
The opposition claimed the elections were rigged in favour of Mugabe.