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For Immediate Release

Doctors Call Zimbabwe's Ruined Health System a "Man-Made Disaster"

Cambridge, Mass - 01/13/2009

In a new report released today, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) finds that a causal chain runs from Mugabe’s economic policies to Zimbabwe’s economic collapse, food insecurity and malnutrition and the current outbreaks of infectious disease. The report is based on a health assessment by PHR public health and human rights experts who travelled to Zimbabwe in December 2008.

The 45-page report, Health in Ruins: A Man-Made Disaster in Zimbabwe asserts that "the Government of Zimbabwe has abrogated the most basic state functions in protecting the health of the population – including the maintenance of public hospitals and clinics and the support for the health workers required to maintain the public health system.” These services have been in decline since 2006, but the deterioration of both public health and clinical care has dramatically accelerated since August 2008. PHR calls for emergency international intervention to address the water, sanitation, food and health crisis.

PHR’s team, which included two public health physicians and two human rights advocates, documented the closure of hospitals and clinics, breakdown in sanitation and water purification systems, the ensuing and unchecked cholera epidemic, food scarcity, interruptions in HIV/AIDS treatment, untreated tuberculosis, and new outbreaks of anthrax and diseases of malnutrition not seen in years in Zimbabwe. PHR asserts that the 2008 cholera epidemic continuing into 2009 is an outcome of the state’s failures in governance and in protecting the basic rights of Zimbabweans.

"This disaster is man-made, was likely preventable, and has become a regional issue since the spread of cholera to neighbour states,” stressed Dr. Chris Beyrer, one of the report’s authors and a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. The report also documents that the Mugabe regime intentionally suppressed initial reports of the cholera epidemic and has since denied or underplayed its gravity.

Dr. David Sanders, a team member and Professor of Public Health at the University of the Western Cape stated, "The ZANU-PF government has exacerbated food insecurity for Zimbabweans in 2008 by blocking international humanitarian organizations from delivering food aid and other succor to populations in the worst-affected rural areas.”

At the end of the PHR team’s visit to Zimbabwe, the state-controlled media falsely reported the delegation’s arrest. "Not only does the government actively disregard the plight of its people, it also seeks to prevent the horrific results of its actions being publicly disclosed. Our team was under constant surveillance,” noted PHR researcher Richard Sollom.

The PHR report, which includes a preface by Justice Richard Goldstone, Mary Robinson and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, accuses the Mugabe ZANU-PF regime of the systematic violation of a wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water and work. "When examined in the context of 28 years of massive and egregious human rights violations against the people of Zimbabwe under the rule of Robert Mugabe, they constitute added proof of the commission by the Mugabe regime of crimes against humanity,” states the report. In the report PHR calls for the urgent resolution of the political impasse in Zimbabwe, an emergency international health intervention equivalent to putting the health system into receivership, a UN Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court to investigate crimes against humanity, and a summit to address disruptions in HIV-AIDS and tuberculosis prevention and treatment.

The delegation to Zimbabwe consisted of:

  • Frank Donaghue, Chief Executive Officer of PHR.
  • David Sanders, MBChB, MRCP, DCH, DTPH, PHR Consultant, and Professor of Public Health, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa
  • Richard Sollom, MA, MPH, PHR researcher and lead author of the report.
  • Chris Beyrer, MD, MPH, PHR Consultant and Director, Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights.

Read the related Press Release Health System Collapse Requires International Intervention, Concludes PHR Report
Download PHR’s Health in Ruins: A Man-Made Disaster in Zimbabwe (PDF): Full report - Summary
PHR released a short online video entitled La Fleuve du Mal which is available on YouTube.
PHR’s photographs are also available on Flickr.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. We are supported by the expertise and passion of health professionals and concerned citizens alike.

Since 1986, PHR has conducted investigations in more than 40 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

  • 1986 — Led investigations of torture in Chile gaining freedom for heroic doctors there
  • 1988 — First to document the Iraqi use of chemical weapons on Kurds providing               evidence for prosecution of war criminals
  • 1996 — Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans and Rwanda to provide evidence for               International Criminal Tribunals
  • 1997 — Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • 2003 — Warned US Policymakers on health and human rights conditions prior to and               during the invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 — Documented genocide and sexual violence in Darfur in support of international               prosecutions
  • 2010 — Investigated the epidemic of violence spread by Burma’s military junta
  • 2011 — Championed the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of               armed conflict and civil unrest during the Arab Spring
  • 2012 — Trained doctors, lawyers, police, and judges in the Democratic Republic of the               Congo, Kenya, and Syria on the proper collection of evidence in sexual               violence cases
  • 2013 — Won first prize in the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention with MediCapt, our               mobile app that documents evidence of torture and sexual violence

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