Cholera is spreading in Zimbabwe. Globally, the illness has become an indicator of social collapse |

Within a day, Jadon was vomiting and suffering stomach pains. His parents took him to a clinic and then a hospital. Less than a week later, he was dead from cholera – one of the suspected 178 cholera deaths and 10,336 cases in Zimbabwe this year.

“We don’t have a child anymore,” Ms. Muzambezi said. “He was our only child. It is painful. We’ve been left with a wound.”

As cholera spreads across the country, more than 10 million Zimbabweans are now at risk of contracting the water-borne disease, which can kill within hours if untreated, health workers say.

This is the third such outbreak in the country since 2008, a sign of Zimbabwe’s collapsing infrastructure and worsening corruption.

It is not alone. The World Health Organization said in a situation report last month that the number of cholera infections worldwide by mid-October had already exceeded the numbers in recent years, with more than 603,000 cases and more than 3,800 deaths in 29 countries. Case fatality rates are the highest in a decade.

Cholera has become a key indicator of collapse in social stability. Most of the countries with cholera outbreaks this year are also enduring parallel humanitarian crises, such as wars, hunger, drought, flooding or earthquakes, the WHO said.

It cited examples such as Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Based on the large number of outbreaks and their geographic expansion, as well as a lack of vaccines and other resources, WHO continues to assess the risk at global level as very high,” the agency said.

“Health systems can easily become overwhelmed, hindering not only the ability to mount effective and timely responses but also to establish appropriate preventive measures in the first place,” it added.


A Syrian child gets vaccinated for cholera this past March in Maaret Misrin, a town in rebel-held Idlib province. Syria is one of several countries where the World Health Organization is worried about cholera.OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

A boy with cholera symptoms gets treatment in the Cité Soleil slum of Port-au-Prince this past May. Cholera causes watery diarrhea, vomiting and thirst; in severe cases, dehydration can be fatal.ARIANA CUBILLOS/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Cholera and dengue patients wait at a hospital in Gedaref city, Sudan, on Sept. 27. Disease has grown worse since civil war broke out in the African country this past April.AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES




































In Sudan, where a catastrophic civil war has destroyed much of the country since April, more than 5,170 cholera cases and 160 deaths have been reported in the past two months, according to a United Nations report on Monday. More than 3.1 million people in Sudan are at risk of cholera, the UN says. Relief agencies have sent 2.2 million doses of cholera vaccines to Sudan in recent weeks.

And then there are countries such as Zimbabwe. The poor sanitation that has caused its cholera outbreaks is linked not to war or earthquakes, but to corruption and mismanagement by the authoritarian regime that has ruled the country for more than four decades. Zimbabwe’s economy has been near collapse for the past 15 years, with high inflation and unemployment.

Some of the latest deaths have affected the same areas and families that were devastated by an earlier epidemic in 2008, leaving survivors in disbelief and despair. The 2008 epidemic killed more than 4,000 Zimbabweans and sickened nearly 100,000 people, yet little seems to have changed since then. Many homes are still without safe running water or are dependent on dangerously shallow wells. Massive piles of garbage are often uncollected.

In the neglected low-income suburbs of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, where cholera has been killing scores of people this year, many residents say the city’s workers demand bribes of about US$60 before they’re willing to repair broken pipes.

“Whenever a sewage pipe bursts, the city workers ask us to collect the money from the residents,” said Jadon’s father, Joseph Kanjanda, a street vendor who sells second-hand clothes and cheap groceries.

“Our challenge is to find water,” he added. “And water is scarce even if we find it. So sometimes people just fetch water from unprotected open wells.”

Joseph Kanjanda, Jadon’s father, says finding clean water is a challenge in his community, so many drink from unprotected sources where cholera can be transmitted.JEFFREY MOYO/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

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