Is cholera a WMD?

On December 15, 2008, in Africa, cholera, politics, by Karen Grepin

“Last week, [Zimbabwe’s] government spokesman George Charamba accused Britain of trying to use the cholera epidemic, which has killed close to 1,000 Zimbabweans and affected 16,000 others, as an excuse for the former colonial power to invade Zimbabwe.”

Another week, but still no action from the international community to intervene in Zimbabwe. The numbers infected and killed are inching up. How bad does it have to get before we need to intervene?

The logic for not getting involved, at least from South Africa, to date has largely been based on the logic that Zimbabwe’s problems do not affect anyone beyond its borders. Although those living in communities now housing thousands of Zimbabwean refugees would probably disagree with this claim, the cholera epidemic gives new rationale for intervention as it will spread beyond the country.

Public health crises have usually lead to situations that have caused the termination or pausing of wars (e.g. supposedly the war between Northern and Southern Sudan paused to allow vaccinations, epidemics have decimated armies leading to one side to topple the other) but have they ever been used to provide rationale to initiate one?

Cholera is just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to the thousands who will die from cholera, due to the fact that public health services are basically non-functional means thousands will also die from less visible, but preventable health conditions. Can the international community just sit by while we know thousands of people are dying?

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