GENEVA: The World Health Organization on Friday called for drastic national and international action to tackle Zimbabwe's cholera outbreak, after
the number of victims soared past the worst case threshold of 60,000.
The death toll in the outbreak since August 2008 reached 3,161, out of 60,401 recorded cases, according to the WHO's most recent update released here on Friday.
Eric Laroche, a WHO assistant director-general, said the WHO and other international and local partners were supporting Zimbabwe's health ministry in tackling the disease.
"But unless drastic action is taken by all players in this crisis, more Zimbabweans will succumb to the outbreak, and other countries in the southern African region will face the continued threat of spill over epidemics," he added in a statement.
Laroche said the outbreak could easily run into spring unless "political differences are put aside," impoverished Zimbabwean health workers are paid adequately and the country's health system is bolstered.
Zimbabwe has been paralysed politically since disputed elections last March, with President Robert Mugabe and the opposition failing to implement a power-sharing deal amid a worsening humanitarian crisis.
"We are dealing with an extraordinary public health crisis that requires from us all an extraordinary public health emergency response, and this must happen now before the outbreak causes more needless suffering and death," Laroche said.
Impoverished Zimbabwe's rainy season is expected to help nurture the waterborne disease, which is already thriving on the country's poor sanitation and broken sewage and water systems, according to health officials.
The UN's health agency estimates that about half of Zimbabwe's population of about 12 million are at risk from cholera because of poor living conditions.
When one percent of that vulnerable population is infected, the outbreak reaches the WHO's "worst case scenario."
Another fear has been the growing proportion of people falling ill and dying out of reach of health care in rural areas.
Three times more deaths are being recorded in their communities rather than within health facilities, according to the WHO.
Meanwhile, the overall fatality rate is about five percent instead of the one percent the agency regards as "acceptable."