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For Immediate Release

Zimbabwean Health Workers Call for Crisis Response

Cambridge, Mass - 11/19/2008

(Cambridge, MA) - Today, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and Zimbabwean health professionals warned of a public health catastrophe in Zimbabwe and urged an international crisis response. Noting the convergence of hospital closings, disruption of water and electricity, a major cholera epidemic spreading throughout the country, a breakdown in delivery of medications for HIV-AIDS, TB, malaria and chronic illness, and government obstruction of food and critical aid to millions, PHR said that unless the United Nations and individual governments provide a robust and immediate response, massive loss of life will occur.

"The international community has taken upon itself the responsibility to protect civilians whose lives are threatened on a large scale by government failures," stated Frank Donaghue, PHR's CEO, who recently returned from Zimbabwe. "The international community, acting through the UN, should also devise a way to step in urgently to replace the life-saving functions of a health system that has totally collapsed. PHR is concerned that all the early-warning signs and worsening health indicators are also present to threaten peace and security in the region."

Zimbabwe public health workers on Monday issued a public appeal calling for an urgent response to the situation.
Given the continued gross negligence of the government of Zimbabwe and the callous disregard for the safety and wellbeing of its citizens, together with the dire signs of impending lethal epidemic disease, PHR called on the governments of the world to act with the utmost urgency to:

  1. Assure that a responsive, legitimate government is in place that can protect the lives and health of the people of Zimbabwe.
  2. Deliver immediate, robust humanitarian aid and medicine into the country, demanding that the government remove all obstructions to this assistance.
  3. Intervene to re-open and support the hospitals and medical school, and assure vital infrastructure and supplies so that health workers can care for their patients.

PHR's colleagues in Zimbabwe have appealed to the outside world to respond to the alarming deterioration of their health system. Medical and public health workers in Zimbabwe report the following:

  • HOSPITAL CLOSINGS: Public health workers in Harare report that due to lack of medicine, equipment, services, and staff, public hospitals and clinics are essentially closed, resulting in preventable deaths. There is no access to care for those who cannot afford private clinics. The only maternity hospital in the capital is also closed. Patients with fractures, meningitis and other acute and dangerous conditions are being sent home, according to another medical source.
  • CHOLERA EPIDEMIC: A cholera epidemic is spreading throughout the country and daily death tolls are on the rise. Fresh water is no longer pumped into urban areas, which will only exacerbate the spread of this infectious disease caused by contaminated water. An unnamed doctor at Harare hospital described the situation as a "disaster of unimaginable proportions".
  • DISRUPTION OF MEDICINE: Essential medicines are unavailable to treat the very diseases that the government's gross negligence has exacerbated. Anti-retroviral therapy for HIV/AIDS patients and TB treatment for chronically ill patients has been severely disrupted.
  • FOOD INSECURITY: The government's recent suspension of the delivery of vital humanitarian assistance severely threatens access to a population of 2 million Zimbabweans who depend on assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP). By the end of this year, the number could double, according to the Programme.
  • VIOLENT POLICE CRACK-DOWN ON DEMONSTRATION BY HEALTH PROFESSIONALS: Riot police forcefully dispersed hundreds of doctors, nurses and other health workers who assembled at the Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare to protest poor salaries and working conditions.
  • MEDICAL SCHOOL CLOSINGS: Early this week, authorities closed indefinitely the country's most prominent medical school and sent students away.

Diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions against the Mugabe regime have thus far failed to curtail widespread and systematic human rights violations including willful denial of health care and obstruction of humanitarian aid as well as mass killing, forced displacement, torture and arbitrary arrest. The current government has acted with impunity and must be held to account.

A letter from PHR's Frank Donaghue on the emergent situation in Zimbabwe can be found at the Physicians for Human Rights web site, http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/letter-09-30-2008-frank.html

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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