- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2003

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe has reported its first suspected case of the deadly ebola virus in Victoria Falls, the country’s top tourist resort.

The death, announced Sunday, came as the country’s health system faced increased strain, with five persons dying of rabies and anthrax in the past week.

The victim was identified by a government-controlled newspaper as an Angolan trader who recently visited several countries in southern Africa.

He was sent to an isolation hospital once he was identified as a potential ebola sufferer, and samples have been sent to South Africa for testing.

Ebola, one of the deadliest viruses in existence, is highly contagious. It causes intense fever, internal and external bleeding and the collapse of internal organs. It kills about 90 percent of those it infects and there is no known cure.

The case could not have come at a worse time for Zimbabwe’s failing health system, widely blamed on President Robert Mugabe’s misrule. With the economy falling apart and inflation rocketing, most government doctors and many nurses have been on strike for several weeks, seeking pay rises of up to 11,000 percent.

The agricultural sector, which underpinned the economy and earned 40 percent of foreign exchange, was thrown into turmoil in 2000 after Mr. Mugabe announced his “fast track land reform program” and began seizing commercial farms owned by whites.

The deaths from rabies and anthrax — which included more than 60 head of cattle — occurred in areas where the diseases had not been seen for many years. Huge packs of hungry dogs, which have not been vaccinated against rabies, can be seen in many of the former commercial farming areas, which have been chaotically resettled.

New farmers say they have increased the numbers of dogs they keep for “protection,” but former farmers say the packs are used to hunt depleted wildlife.

Health professionals say there is no rabies vaccine for humans in Zimbabwe and, even if it was available, it is too expensive for most bitten by infected dogs.

“There has been a dramatic increase in the movement of people and animals in the last few years, which makes it difficult to control some diseases we used to manage quite well,” the government’s principal director of veterinary services, Dr. Stuart Hargreaves, said Sunday.

He also acknowledged that thousands of miles of Zimbabwe’s most important cattle fences had been broken or stolen during the destruction of the country’s agriculture industry, hampering efforts to control the movement of animals.

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