Thursday, February 5, 2009
On our visit to England, we took a quick trip to historic York. Just outside the city wall, still in the shadow of the majestic Minstry, a small cholera graveyard caught my attention.
I was intrigued and did a little research. In 1831-32, cholera claimed 55,000 lives in the UK. Then in 1849, a similar number of people succumbed in a second UK epidemic.
In York, people began to notice that those who lived around the graveyards were quick to catch cholera. So they began burying cholera victims in a separate cholera cemetery away from residences, outside the city wall.
Medical science has come a long way since then. We now understand how cholera is transmitted. We know how to isolate it. We know how to treat people with cholera. It is not a fatal disease, a death sentence, anymore.
But we haven't come far enough. We allow a nation to spiral so far downhill that basic water and sanitation services can't function anymore. We don't know how to deal with twisted minds that prevent us from sourcing and distributing the aid needed to save lives.
More than 60,000 people have contracted cholera in Zimbabwe. More than 3,000 people have died. This has already exceeded all worst case scenarios, and now expectations are that the numbers will double before the epidemic is over.
Cholera is not the biggest killer in Zimbabwe. But the fact that it is a significant killer at all is a desperate alarm to the world that something is seriously wrong in the country.