Thursday, January 13, 2011

Poverty, Violence, and Cholera. Oh my!

In late 2008, as Zimbabwe struggled in the grips of a cholera epidemic, it was not only the disease's victims who suffered, but everyone.

The country, overrun with poverty, saw an inflation rate of 231 Million percent in 2008. Grocery shelves were often completely empty. (did someone say, lowered-immune-systems-due-to-malnutrition?) And soldiers upset about their pay had run through the streets of the nations capital, Harare, looting buildings and robbing currency changers. The citizens were outraged at the banking industry's inability to give them access to their money.

Also in Harare, protests from doctors and nurses who were appalled at their working conditions had to be broken up by police. They claimed that they lacked basic sanitation supplies, (obviously important for a cholera outbreak) and even medical necessities such as needles. The health system was seeing huge problems even before the cholera outbreak which killed 625 people and infected over 12,000 others.

To make matters worse, the government had run out of money to treat water, and the contaminated supply could not be cleaned.

At the top of all this, the current presidential administration of Robert Mugabe had one year earlier forced a political challenger out of the election through methods of violence.

So, what does all of this tell us?

We can see that problems tend to become much worse when they overlap into common sectors, i.e, public health and politics. But what happens when the sector in the center of it all hits rock bottom? That is what we saw in Zimbabwe. The economy was in ruin, leading to overwhelming problems reaching into every aspect of the country's infrastructure. As we learned in class, cholera very seldom has serious effects in developed countries. Zimbabwe at this time in 2008 gave the disease the perfect opportunity to take hold, showing us that a country's infrastructure plays the role of its immune system.

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