Chris McGreal

Health workers in Zimbabwe are warning that international alarm over the spreading cholera emergency, which has claimed nearly a thousand lives, is overshadowing the AIDS crisis, which is killing as many people every three days.

The rising death toll from cholera, brought on by collapsed sewerage systems infecting drinking water, has become the most visible sign of Zimbabwe’s extraordinary implosion and the indifference of its leaders. As the disease spread across the border into South Africa, alarmed foreign governments promised to pour in aid to contain the outbreak.

But, cholera and the failure of the sewerage system are symptoms of a wider collapse of the state and its devastating consequences.

“This cholera is just one issue,” said Meine Nicolai, director of operations for Medecins Sans Frontieres Belgium, which is working in Zimbabwe.

Many Zimbabweans, particularly in rural areas, eat one meal every two or three days because of the collapse of agriculture following the redistribution of white-owned farms and drought. With chronic malnutrition comes weakened immune systems and much greater vulnerability to AIDS. Undernourishment also erodes the effectiveness of drugs that keep the disease at bay.

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008