AI tells govt to request for help

HARARE - President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration should swallow its pride and request international assistance to combat the spread of a cholera epidemic that has so far claimed over 25 lives, Amnesty International (AI) has said.

The global rights group described as “unacceptable” a situation where people are still dying from preventable diseases such as cholera in 2018.

AI lamented the fact that government seems not to have learnt anything from a similar crisis in 2008 in which another cholera outbreak left more than 4 000 people dead as it has been caught unawares again this time.

“If Zimbabwe lacks the resources to address these issues it can, and is obliged under international law to do so, request assistance,” Jessica Pwiti, Amnesty International Zimbabwe’s executive director said in a statement on Wednesday.

Added Pwiti: “As the government itself has now admitted, this is a national disaster which requires an immediate and effective response.”

Pwiti blamed government for failing to invest seriously in infrastructural development especially in urban areas where water shortages have become the norm in the last two decades.

“The current cholera epidemic is a terrible consequence of Zimbabwe’s failure to invest in and manage both its basic water and sanitation infrastructure and its health care system,” she said adding that “given what happened in 2008, the government should have been better prepared”.

“But no lessons were learned from the 2008 epidemic, and the outbreak and deaths we’re seeing now is symptomatic of a still-broken sanitation infrastructure and poor sewer management, worsened by shortages of drugs and medical supplies.”

The 2008 crisis claimed more than 4 300 lives and was blamed on the lack of a safe drinking water supply as well as broken-down sanitation systems that left many people surrounded by flowing raw sewage near their homes.

The current outbreak which was initially reported in Gweru as a case of typhoid last month has since spread to other parts of the country.

Government has given the figure of suspected cholera cases as over 3 000 while some 45 other cases have been confirmed.

The outbreak represents the first serious public health emergency for Mnangagwa following his disputed electoral victory at the end of July.

“The newly-elected government must learn from its predecessor’s mistakes and take action that stops people dying from preventable diseases,” Pwiti said.

She implored government to invest in proper sanitation and health infrastructure to ensure universal access to health care.

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