Zimbabwe's incoming minister of health, Dr. Henry Madzorera, said Thursday that his top priority in office will be to get state health care workers back into hospitals and clinics to get a grip on the persistent cholera epidemic.
Dr. Madzorera was named to head the ministry this week by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, head of the Movement for Democratic Formation for which the physician was shadow health minister. He will take over from Dr. David Parirenyatwa of the long-ruling ZANU-PF party headed by President Robert Mugabe.
Zimbabwe's national health system essentially collapsed late last year as doctors, nurses and hospital support staff walked off the job over pay and dismal working conditions. Some are returning to work under programs sponsored by international donors allowing them to be at least partially compensated in hard currency, but the system remains crippled.
Mr. Tsvangirai promised in his inaugural address on Wednesday that all state workers would be paid in hard currency beginning next month - but he disclosed on Thursday that he had not lined up funding to cover that cost, saying this would be his government's task.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said deaths from cholera totaled 3,513 through Wednesday from more than 73,000 cases over the past seven months. International health experts have said that the stubborn epidemic could continue for months, and the International Red Cross said its funding could run out in four weeks.
Dr. Madzorera told reporter Marvellous Mhlanga-Nyahuye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that his ministry will concentrate on the eradication of cholera as soon as he takes office - but he needs qualified health personnel back in hospitals and clinics to do so.