Monday, December 08, 2008

Shine a Light

Truly frightening news in Zimbabwe, where officials have declared a cholera emergency. It is estimated that about 11,000 people are infected with deaths reaching nearly 600.

Cholera is one of those diseases forgotten to the first world thanks to water treatment and sanitation. I vaguely remembered reading about a London cholera epidemic in the novel The Dress Lodger and of course Love in the Time of Cholera but I was hard pressed to come up with how exactly cholera killed you.

The bad news is that cholera is nasty business. The main symptom is acute diarrhea that can kill within hours if not treated. The good news is that this illness is not only highly preventable, it is also highly treatable with an inexpensive and low-tech combination of water, electrolytes and antibiotics. So, why are so many people dying from such an easily preventable and treatable illness?

Because Zimbabwe is a freaking mess right now. There is no clear leadership, following the ousting of Mugabe by Morgan Tsvangirai (which by the way is pronounced "Chang-er-eye," who knew that's how you spelled it?) but violence after the election caused him to withdraw, leaving Mugabe in charge again. Human rights violations are rampant, inflation is through the roof, food is in short supply. What infrastructure had been there is largely gone: most public schools and hospitals are closed. Most utilities are off. Soldiers, angry at what inflation has done to their paychecks, are looting the city. All told, not good for the people of Zimbabwe and even worse for containing a cholera outbreak.

Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has written a harrowing article about the situation on the ground and their efforts to stem the tide of the cholera outbreak. If you're having a hard time justifying buying more crap this holiday season, why not consider donations to MSF instead? But also send some chocolate, it's always appreciated. Maybe some wine, too.

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