March 23, 2009 / 4:05 PM / 11 years ago

Cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe easing - WHO

GENEVA, March 23 (Reuters) - The cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe seems to have passed its worst, with both the number of new infections and the rate of fatalities falling, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday.

The number of new cases in the week ended March 14 was 2,076 -- still high, but down from 3,812 the week before and over 8,000 infections a week at the start of February, the WHO, a United Nations agency based in Geneva, said in a statement.

The weekly fatality rate fell to 2.3 percent in the week ended March 14 from a peak near 6 percent in January, it said.

"While data collection and verification remain a challenge throughout the country with the effect that weekly statistics are not always accurate or complete, the overall trend over the last 2 months is of a decreasing number of cases and deaths," the WHO said.

As of March 17, a total of 91,164 cases with 4,037 deaths had been reported since the start of the current outbreak in August 2008, it said.

Earlier this month new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said that official figures probably dramatically underestimated the real number of infections and deaths.

Cholera is a water-borne diarrhoeal disease that spreads through contaminated food and water. It is easily preventable and treatable but can cause severe dehydration and death.

Zimbabwe's health system has all but collapsed in the country's economic crisis, with hospitals battling shortages of drugs, high cases of HIV/AIDS and nurses and doctors frequently on strike for higher pay.

The deadliest outbreak of cholera in Africa in 15 years has spread to neighbouring countries including South Africa. (For the WHO statement go to: here ) (For more information on humanitarian crises and issues visit ) (Reporting by Jonathan Lynn; Editing by Robert Evans)

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