Cholera is a disease most people in the developed world think about very little. It is a bacterial infection that is caused most often by contaminated water supplies. Most of the developed world can take clean drinking water for granted, but that unfortunately is not the case worldwide. Once a person is infected, the chief symptom is extreme diarrhea which can cause dehydration and death within hour if left untreated. For most people, treatment does not require expensive drugs or advanced medical intervention; a simple rehydration therapy that balances fluids and necessary minerals will get most people through an infection. A smaller number of people may need IV fluids, and an even smaller number may benefit from antibiotics. As the World Health Organization says, "Cholera is an easily treatable disease."
That is why it is all the more tragic that more than 3600 people have died of Cholera in Zimbabwe since last summer. A perfect storm of events has led to a controllable disease having this bad an outbreak: a governmental collapse led to a collapse in infrastructure maintenance and repair. As a result, water became contaminated which led to an outbreak where more than 76,000 people have been infected. At the same time, the health-care system in Zimbabwe collapsed while floods took already contaminated water and spread it into streams and rivers to spread the disease even more. While there has been some media coverage of the Cholera outbreak, aid from developed countries has been slow in coming due to the political upheaval. As usual, Doctors Without Borders has jumped in to provide medical treatment where none would otherwise exist (they estimate that they have treated over 45,000 people already). But there efforts cannot stop the epidemic from expanding and killing more people.
Left untreated, Cholera will kill a person. Let to run rampant, an epidemic will lead to more and worse conditions. Doctors Without Borders warns that further troubles could be ahead for Zimbabwe if more aid is not forthcoming. Famine, further disease outbreaks, and a worsening of the death rate from AIDS are all things that can happen if cholera continues to ravage the country unchecked. A simply treated disease can cause a medical emergency. For the people in Zimbabwe, it already has.