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Cholera Outbreak

Trouble is mounting for fragile Zimbabwe, but “tourism cannot end”

Nelson Alcantara, eTN  Feb 23, 2009

Zimbabwe’s rapid stagnation resulting from by political instability, food crises, and economic woes is becoming direr by the minute. Adding to these current challenges, citizens from the country formerly known as Rhodesia are now in grave danger of dying because of the threat of a cholera outbreak.

According the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO), the mounting death toll as of February 20, 2009 from Zimbabwe’s devastating cholera epidemic has reached almost 3,800, with more than 80,000 people infected.

WHO said some 3,759 people have now died from cholera since the outbreak first hit the besieged southern African country in August last year, with all 10 of Zimbabwe’s provinces having been affected by the water-borne disease, which has spilled over to neighboring countries.

The United Nations specialized agency on health issues noted that South Africa, which has a relatively strong health care system, has been able to limit the number of fatalities to below one percent of people infected by the deadly disease, compared to four percent in Zimbabwe last December and between one and two percent in recent weeks.

A high number of cholera cases have also been reported in Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia, all countries where the disease is endemic, according to WHO.

The UN health agency added that there are 365 cholera treatment centers operating in Zimbabwe and WHO has set up a Cholera Command and Control Centre in the capital, Harare, with its partner agencies to provide technical support in the areas of epidemiological and laboratory surveillance, case management, social mobilization, logistics, and infection control and water sanitation in treatment centers.

WHO also warned that containing the rate of infection remains a significant challenge given the country’s dilapidated water and sanitation infrastructure and a weak health system.

According to WHO, it is prioritizing on decentralizing the emergency response, particularly to areas with no active non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and strengthening social mobilization within communities to improve access to health services and earlier treatment. The agency will also focus on resource mobilization and greater involvement of partners in the field.

What about tourism?

The American Society of Travel Agents has scheduled tours to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe as part of its International Destinations Expo, which will be held next month in Sun City, South Africa. Asked if he has any apprehensions for going to Zimbabwe, William Maloney, ASTA’s chief executive, said: “No. Personally, I’m going myself, and I’m taking my daughter and son-in-law.” Fortunately for Maloney and company, they do not have to worry, as there is no cholera threat in Victoria Falls.

ASTA has always adhered to the philosophy that “tourism cannot end under any circumstance.” Kathy Sudeikis, a former ASTA president, told eTN this when we caught up with her at the International Institute for Peace through Tourism’s first European summit, which was held in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, last November.

Asked whether he agreed with Sudeikis, Maloney said: “Kathy agrees with the ASTA philosophy that travel is a right of free people and that there is no way we should have political restrictions on the places we are free to go or not go. So that’s an ASTA philosophy and a belief. That given, there are some places that, from time to time, are unsafe because of civil dis-rest, because of disease, because of other things, and travel agents need to advise their travelers of what are the conditions in those places. I think every traveler must be aware of cholera, and cholera is not a laughing matter, it is a very serious thing, and I hope that they get it under control quickly.”

Trouble is mounting for fragile Zimbabwe, but “tourism cannot end”
Photograph by Nelson Alcantara

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