Don’t Drink the Water: Politics and Cholera in Zimbabwe

International Journal

Author/s (editor/s):

Jeremy Youde

Publication year:


Publication type:

Journal article

Find this publication at:

Jeremy Youde, ‘Don’t Drink the Water: Politics and Cholera in Zimbabwe’, International Journal, 65(3) 2010: 687‒704.

Given the severity of Zimbabwe’s 2008‒09 cholera outbreak, and the early suggestions that another epidemic could emerge in 2010, what is to be done? The Zimbabwean government has clearly demonstrated its willingness to subvert the health needs of its citizens to its own political designs, and ZANU-PF officials have publicly declared that the cholera outbreak was an episode of biological terrorism perpetrated by Robert Mugabe’s enemies in an effort to oust him from power. This article has two goals. First, it seeks to demonstrate how infectious disease outbreaks like cholera in Zimbabwe are political crises as much as epidemiological ones. Specific government policies give rise to the conditions under which a disease like cholera can flourish. Second, it aims to outline potential remedies to prevent future cholera outbreaks. Whilst health has traditionally been the province of national governments, the international community has taken a greater interest in health and infectious disease in recent years. This has led to questions about the appropriate balance between the two, and the case of cholera in Zimbabwe offers us an opportunity to explore that balance.

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