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Cholera deaths rise in Zimbabwe

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  • Zimbabwe cholera outbreak spikes as death toll passes 300
  • Poor sanitation and contaminated water behind outbreak
  • Zimbabwe's health system is on the brink of collapse aid agencies say
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(CNN) -- Cholera-related deaths and new cases continued to spike in recent days in Zimbabwe, where health and sanitation services have been deteriorating amid widespread political turmoil.

Over the last four days, the number of cholera deaths in the country increased from 294 to 313 and the number of cases has increased from 6,072 to 7,283, the U.N. Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs said on Monday. The numbers have been reported from August till now.

Health officials say the water-borne disease is spreading fast because of the poor sanitation or contaminated water, which Zimbabweans are using for drinking and to prepare food.

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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement on Tuesday saying he is "distressed over the "collapse of health, sanitation and education services, and the consequent rapidly escalating cholera outbreak."

The nation's capital, Harare, has not imported adequate supplies of chemicals to treat water, resulting in citizens resorting to shallow wells and rivers for water, according to health advocates.

The situation in Zimbabwe has been compounded by a collapsing health delivery system. Government hospitals have closed as doctors and nurses stopped reporting for duty, citing archaic equipment and poor compensation, the World Health Organization has said.

A group including former UN chief Kofi Annan and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter recently postponed a visit to Zimbabwe meant to highlight the country's humanitarian crisis after Zimbabwe government refused to cooperate with the delegation.

Ban on Tuesday backed the "humanitarian initiative" and regretted the government's failure to cooperate "with their timely, well-intended effort to assist the people of Zimbabwe." He is hopeful that another mission will take place soon.

The humanitarian problems illustrate the political problem in Zimbabwe, where a power-sharing agreement signed in September between President Robert Mugabe of the ruling ZANU-PF party and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has yet to take effect.

The U.N. leader also urged Zimbabwean parties "to rapidly reach an agreement on the formation of a new government consistent with the letter and spirit of the 15 September agreement."

"The people of Zimbabwe cannot afford another failure by their political leadership to reach a fair and workable agreement that would allow Zimbabwe to tackle the formidable challenges ahead," Ban said.

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