Despotism and Disease

Roger Bate & Richard Tren | 11 Mar 2005
Africa Fighting Malaria

Life for the average Zimbabwean has become dramatically worse in the past five years. Unemployment is at 80%, inflation is in triple digits and food production has collapsed leading to widespread malnutrition. Violence awaits all those who have the courage to voice criticism, and the election due on 31st March, will be the third in a row that is far from free and fair. While this information is well known, what is less understood is the disastrous impact on the health of Zimbabweans, and soon the region from the mismanagement of the economy.

Infectious disease is rampant among the malnourished majority - malaria once under control is resurging, tuberculosis is thriving in the increasingly HIV-positive environment. Sexual behaviour is poor given the precarious conditions in which people live, HIV rates could well be the highest in the world (official rates are 25% but it could be far higher). But since most qualified personnel have left the country quality estimations are thin on the ground. While this is a tragedy for Zimbabweans, other countries in the region, that have so far not acted on the political mayhem, may soon be left with a choice: Act to establish democracy in Zimbabwe, or have even more HIV in your country. The most mobile Zimbabweans are also those most likely to carry HIV. And while their lives have been nasty and brutish, they are not short enough to prevent transmission of HIV into neighbouring countries.

The time for the 'quiet diplomacy' of the West and South Africa has come and gone. Action is required in this outpost of tyranny.

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