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Upsurge in Water-Borne Diseases in Zimbabwe Raises Fears of Epidemic

Most of those dying are young children, thirteen of them in the city of Kwekwe alone last week where officials say local authorities have failed to deal with infection-spreading trash dump sites

Zimbabwean health officials fear the return of cholera on a large scale as outbreaks of water-borne diseases are reported in Harare and elsewhere, including a large number of cases of diarrhea which have claimed 93 lives, most of the victims children.

More than 6,000 cases of diarrhea were reported nationwide last week bringing to 175,000 the number recorded since the beginning of 2011.

Health officials said most of those dying are young children, 13 in the Midlands town of Kwekwe alone last week where officials said local municipal authorities have failed to deal with infection-spreading trash dump sites.

Kwekwe Health Services Director Phyllis Gochera said continued education on how to avoid and treat diarrhea would save many lives not only in the city but countrywide.

Dr. Portia Manangazira, head of the Health Ministry's department of epidemiology and disease control, said national figures are a cause for concern. Dr. Manangazira said national and local authorities need to take urgent action to quell outbreaks.

Executive Director Itai Rusike of the Community Working Group on Health said water queues have returned to Harare, raising fears of a major outbreak of cholera.

More than 4,200 people died of cholera in Zimbabwe from August 2008 to mid-2009 as contaminated water supplies spread the disease and health care systems failed.

"We should never accept this thing of allowing Harare to go backwards, becoming one of the largest rural areas in the country," said Rusike. Among emergency measures taken to end the epidemic was the drilling of boreholes in many urban locations.

"Yes we are thankful to those who have drilled boreholes to save the situation but they should never become a permanent feature in Harare. The city should address the water and sanitation issues affecting people permanently."