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Cholera Epidemic Is Latest Zimbabwe Crisis to Spill Into Neighboring Countries
One hopeful columnist for the Standard, an independent newspaper in Zimbabwe, wrote that bacteria might be the breakthrough that summits, protests and political violence have not reached. He dubbed it the "Cholera Effect."
In bustling Musina, where six cholera patients have died, health workers are officially steering clear of politics. The focus is on saving lives, and patients are treated regardless of their nationality, said Phuti Seloba, a provincial health department spokesman.
Seloba would not say how much South Africa has spent to treat Zimbabweans. But he scarcely concealed his frustration. He said crossing the border illegally is easy because South Africa, a "human rights country," no longer has an electric fence. South African farmers want cheap labor, he said, so they hire Zimbabweans and "become beneficiaries of the madness of leaders in Zimbabwe."
"We can say the problem is in Zimbabwe," he said, referring to cholera. "It's spilling on us here."
Behind him were three white tents filled with beds for cholera patients, whose illness can be treated fairly easily with rehydration solutions if caught in time. There were 110 patients on this day.
One was Clever Kachitigu, a despondent-looking, rail-thin young man hooked up to an intravenous tube and wearing nothing but a faded NASCAR T-shirt around his waist. He said he left his home outside Harare a week earlier in search of work. There was no running water there. He fell ill four days later.
"We're just praying that the Lord will help us, because our president is killing us now," Kachitigu, 23, said softly.
He knew his predicament would be far worse in Zimbabwe. There, international aid organizations have been carrying the burden of an escalating outbreak by digging boreholes, distributing water-purification kits and setting up treatment centers. On Monday, the U.N. health agency appealed to donors for $2 million to fund a "three-month assault" on the epidemic.
The outbreak is worst in Harare, much of which has no running water because the bankrupt government cannot buy purifying chemicals and pipes are broken. In the packed townships, sewage runs freely.
The start of the rainy season is threatening to spread bacteria, while the summer heat is increasing the need to drink -- though many people are too poor to buy wood to build fires for boiling what little water they can find.
Making matters worse, a health-care system that was once one of Africa's finest has fully collapsed after years of deterioration, Western diplomats and local health-care workers say. Government hospitals have shut down, in part because hyperinflation has left employees unable to pay for transportation to work on their salaries.
"Our central hospitals are literally not functioning," Health Minister David Parirenyatwa said at a meeting of government and international aid officials Wednesday, according to the state-run Herald newspaper.