Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic

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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins, and this is The World. New figures from the World Health Organization point to an escalating cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe. The government of Zimbabwe claims the epidemic is under control, but the WHO now estimates the number of death at more than 2,000. That's up from 1400. The U.N. agency also says 40,000 more Zimbabweans are sick with cholera. These numbers come as the U.S.-based Physicians For Human Rights is calling for President Robert Mugabe to be investigated for crimes against humanity. The World's Laura Lynch reports.

LAURA LYNCH: Chris Beyrer knew the medical situation inside Zimbabwe was bad and getting worse when he traveled there last month, but the American doctor was still shocked to see public hospitals close down, leaving those desperate for care to travel to rural clinics for help.

CHRIS BEYRER: You interview patients who have gone miles and miles and miles for example, women in labor, to try and find a place where they can get a Cesarean section to save their own lives and the lives of their unborn children. It's just incredible and so unnecessary. It's a man-made disaster.

LYNCH: Beyrer was part of a small team of doctors and human rights specialists who worked undercover to investigate the crisis in the country. As they worked, the number of cases of cholera climbed. Beyrer blames President Robert Mugabe and his government for ruining the country's water supply.

BEYRER: This was not simply an epidemic of cholera. This was a breakdown and collapse of the water treatment system in this country which was entirely political in its origin. Therefore, we would argue that all those cholera deaths really were preventable, they were unnecessary, and they were the outcome of a political crime.

LYNCH: Physicians For Human Rights wants the International Criminal Court to investigate Mugabe and his government for crimes against humanity. But even if that happens, it will take years. So the group's Frank Donaghue is urging the U.N. to move into Zimbabwe right now.

FRANK DONAGHUE: We're calling for the United Nations to step in and to basically put the health system and the sanitation systems and the water systems in Zimbabwe in to some type of, if you will, receivership, where more responsible parties can come in and manage a system where thousands of people are dying and the government is totally ignoring it.

LYNCH: Zimbabwe is not just struck by cholera. The team also tracked cases of Anthrax; eight people have died since November. Four hundred people a day are dying of HIV and AIDS-related illnesses. The country's only tuberculosis testing lab is practically closed, even as TB cases rise. Then there are the growing number of children suffering from malnutrition, in a country that used to boast a bountiful food supply. Beyrer calls malnutrition the lasting legacy of the calamity in the country.

BEYRER: In the developing brain of developing children, there are periods where if you don't have enough protein, you simply won't grow. They will be stunting, in severe cases, intellectual impairment.

LYNCH: The Mugabe government is refusing to respond to the report's finding. Spokesman George Charamba instead attacked the group itself, calling it a ?stupid Western-created organization.? As for the man at the center of the organizations, Robert Mugabe may have been too busy unpacking to read today's report. He just returned to Harare from a family holiday in Malaysia. For The World, I'm Laura Lynch.