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UNICEF on front lines of cholera outbreak

UNICEF on front lines of cholera outbreak

17 December 2008. – The cholera outbreak that has killed close to 1,000 people in Zimbabwe is now spreading to neighbouring countries.

The UN estimates that Zimbabwe’s cholera death toll has reached 978, with an additional 18,413 suspected cases. The outbreak is affecting nine out 10 provinces in Zimbabwe and is being described as that country’s worst ever cholera outbreak.

Cholera is also spilling out to neighbouring countries – notably South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique – as people flee the humanitarian crisis hitting Zimbabwe.

In Zimbabwe, close to 80 per cent of the country has no access to safe drinking water and the vast majority of the population does not have adequate sanitary facilities. Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by contaminated food or water. The unstable political situation and collapse of local social services are contributing to the problem.

“The situation in Zimbabwe remains dire,” says a UNICEF spokesperson.

UNICEF is working on the ground in Zimbabwe and neighbouring countries to provide life-saving supplies to stem the cholera outbreak. In Zimbabwe, UNICEF is supplying more than 530,000 litres of safe drinking water a day to affected areas and making available 30,000 units of IV fluids, key to keeping cholera victims hydrated.

UNICEF is also distributing water treatment tablets, drilling boreholes to access fresh water, and providing 3,800 tonnes of Aluminium Sulphate for water treatment in urban areas over the next four months. In addition, hundreds of youths are being trained as community health educators to disseminate messages on cholera prevention.

“With the rains and the Christmas break upon us, there will be high mobility and we might see cholera spread to rural areas of Zimbabwe. We have to remain vigilant and brace for a growing outbreak.”

In South Africa, UNICEF is launching a nationwide hygiene campaign to sensitise people about cholera prevention, provide water and sanitation assistance in affected areas, and protecting vulnerable child refugees.

UNICEF is working closely with other UN agencies, NGOs and community-based partners to make the most impact against the outbreak.

ENDS

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