- The Washington Times - Friday, January 16, 2009

HARARE, Zimbabwe | The death toll from a cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe rose to 2,225 Friday, and the head of the U.N. children’s agency toured a hospital where weakened victims of the waterborne disease were receiving international help.

UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman, on a three-day visit to the southern African nation, also met Friday with President Robert Mugabe. No details of their meeting were released, but it came the same day as the United Nations urged Zimbabwe to speed up the delivery of humanitarian supplies.

Meanwhile, the country’s central bank announced Friday it will issue a 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar bank note, worth about $33 on the black market, to try to ease desperate cash shortages, Reuters news agency, citing state-run media, reported.

As well as the Z$100 trillion note, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe plans to launch Z$10 trillion, Z$20 trillion and Z$50 trillion notes, the Herald newspaper reported.

As Mrs. Veneman toured the hospital in Budiriro, a crowded neighborhood of Harare, the capital, women collected water from tanks set up outside. Zimbabwe’s economic collapse has destroyed its infrastructure, and the country has not been able to ensure clean water or prompt medical help for its citizens.

UNICEF has provided funds, medicine and food to keep the Budiriro hospital going since October, but it was overwhelmed with patients in recent months. The crowding has since eased, but Mrs. Veneman said that does not mean the cholera epidemic that has swept the country is slowing.

In Geneva, the United Nations said the cholera death toll in Zimbabwe since August reached 2,225 on Friday, with 42,675 others infected and 1,550 new cases being reported every day. The U.N. also said a lack of clean water and proper hygiene was causing re-infection after treatment and added there was an “urgent need” for funds to pay Zimbabwean health workers.

The world body said an operation to feed millions of hungry Zimbabweans, which preceded the cholera outbreak, meant aid workers and medical workers were competing for vehicles and fuel. It urged the government to cut red tape to speed up the arrival of supplies, which can take several months to get through the border.

Cholera outbreaks are common in developing countries, but the waterborne disease does not usually kill more than about 1 percent of people infected. In Zimbabwe, the World Health Organization estimated that the fatality rate was about 5 percent.

While Zimbabwean health officials were cooperating with international aid workers, a power-sharing dispute has kept politicians from addressing the root causes of the country’s collapse.

Mr. Mugabe and main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai were to meet Monday to try to resolve a monthslong impasse that has kept them from forming a unity government. Mr. Tsvangirai accuses Mr. Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, of trying to hold onto too many key Cabinet posts.

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