To tackle its cholera outbreak (map, from bbc.co.uk), Zimbabwe’s government has asked for urgent international help, said the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Health minister David Parirenyatwa is reported to have asked for medicine, equipment and funds to pay medical staff, during a meeting with aid agencies.
At least 565 people have died from cholera in Zimbabwe since August, says the UN.
Ministers previously said the outbreak was under control and blamed it on Western sanctions on president Robert Mugabe.
In Harare, the country’s capital, police broke up a protest march by doctors and nurses on Wednesday. They were angered at the worsening outbreak.
Officers used batons to disperse and beat up the crowd of health workers, said witnesses. The authorities also prevented trade union members staging a protest over the country’s banking meltdown.
During the meeting, Mr Parirenyatwa said his government needed water as well as sanitation equipment, the WHO’s communications officer in Harare, Paul Garwood, told the BBC.
“What the government has done today is request support and we’re very keen to provide that support”, he said.
“It was the first time where the minister has called all the parties together to detail all the needs of the government.”
He added that up to 2 000 moderate cases could be treated by anti-cholera supplies and medicines which had been flown to Harare that day by the WHO.
Since August, some 12 545 cases of cholera have been recorded in Zimbabwe, according to the latest statement from the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Most of Zimbabwe’s capital has been without water since Sunday.
“In some parts of town there is raw sewage running down streets”, said BBC News website Harare diarist Esther.
The collapse of Zimbabwe’s health and sanitation systems, amid a prolonged economic and political crisis, increased the spread of cholera.
At the same time, the contamination with cholera of the Limpopo River, on Zimbabwe’s border with South Africa, has been confirmed.
People have been warned by South African local health department spokesman Phuti Seloba not to use the river water at all.
Cases of cholera have been reported either side of Zimbabwe’s borders with South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique.
In the South African town of Musina, near the border with Zimbabwe, cholera patients are being treated at an emergency centre on the lawn in front of the hospital, reported the BBC’s Peter Biles.
He has been told by one cholera victim from Harare that on Zimbabwe’s side of the border, toilets had not functioned for a month, and people were “defecating everywhere”.
A human rights activist was abducted at dawn from her home in Norton, south of Harare, by a group of at least 12 armed plain-clothes men, who identified themselves as policemen, said Amnesty International.
The organisation challenged Zimbabwe’s government immediately to disclose the whereabouts of Jestina Mukoko, who is the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project.
The government has blamed its crisis on Western sanctions, saying they are aimed at trying to bring down president Robert Mugabe.
However the sanctions imposed after allegations of electoral fraud and political violence are aimed at Mr Mugabe and his close associates. They consist of travel bans and a freeze on their foreign assets.
Among Zimbabwe’s severe economic crisis, central bank governor Gideon Gono will lift import duty on basic goods, reports the state-run Herald newspaper.
“I believe this is the best Christmas present we can present to consumers this festive season”, the Herald quotes him as saying.
With just one adult in five estimated to have a regular job and the latest annual inflation rate of 231,000,000%, Zimbabwe is struggling with an economic crisis.