Zimbabwe Health Crisis Further Deteriorates

It is hard to imagine the situation in Zimbabwe becoming worse than it is, but health and aid agencies claim there is a rapid increase in cholera deaths and a spike in child malnutrition cases.

Within a few days, cholera has killed dozens of people and the number of known cholera cases has increased by several thousands.

As of Sunday, 1,564 people have died from the epidemic, up from 1,518 just days earlier on Thursday, World Health Organization spokesman Gregory Hartl reported on Monday to CNN. Reported cholera cases rose from 26,497 to 29,131 within the same time frame.

The outbreak has affected all 10 provinces in Zimbabwe and has even spread to neighboring South Africa.

WHO claims the outbreak is closely linked to a lack of clean drinking water, poor sanitation, an inadequate health system, and the beginning of the rainy season.

As many as 60,000 people could be infected with the intestinal disease if the spreading is not stopped, health experts warn.

But among those suffering the most from the country's political and economic problems are children, who are "wasting away" from malnutrition, an aid group has said.

International children aid and development organization Save the Children reported this weekend that the number of acute child malnutrition cases has risen by nearly two-thirds in the past year.

About 5 million Zimbabweans - over 40 percent of the population – are now in need of food aid, the U.K.-based aid group reported.

Save the Children says it needs 18,000 tons of food for January.

Other organizations are also helping to address the severe needs in Zimbabwe.

Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, the United Church, Christian Care Zimbabwe and others are helping the Canadian Foodgrains Bank release 10,000 tons of corn, soy, oil and ground nuts to 120,000 beneficiaries, CRWRC announced recently.

The $7 million worth of food aid, with $100,000 from CRWRC, will alleviate hunger and starvation for some until the region's next harvest in May 2009.

Zimbabwe is experiencing the worst economic and humanitarian crisis since its independence from Great Britain nearly three decades ago.

President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled with an iron fist since Zimbabwe's independence, is widely blamed for the country's problems. Critics attribute the various problems to his economic policies.

Under Mugabe, inflation has spiraled out of control and is at more than 100,000 percent, while unemployment is at more than 80 percent.

But despite the economic and health crisis, Mugabe has refused to step down from office.

Mugabe also lost the popular vote in the March general election, but he has used his military cronies to intimidate the opposition party and force his opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, to pull out of the race.

With no competition, Mugabe claimed to be re-elected by his people for a sixth term.

President Bush has denounced the election a "sham" and the United States and other Western countries have refused to recognize the Mugabe administration.

A power-sharing deal between Mugabe's and Tsvangirai's parties was later put into place, but soon fell apart when the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change, accused Mugabe's Zanu-PF of not abiding to the agreement.

Despite international concern and calls for Mugabe to resign, there has been no significant progress in Zimbabwe's situation.

Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu, the retired Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, has repeatedly called for Mugabe to step down from office, and if necessary, be forcibly removed from his position by other African nations.