That's what Secretary Rice said in Copenhagen on Friday. "It's well past time for Robert Mugabe to leave. I think that's now obvious," referring to Zimbabwe's failed presidency and the rising cholera death toll. "If this is not evidence to the international community to stand up for what is right, I don't know what would be." Her remarks are most welcome at a time when the world seems indifferent to the complete collapse of the health system.
Human rights groups, including Physicians for Human Rights, circulated a petition to pressure Rice and other world leaders to act urgently.
Kenya's Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, has spoken out too. The international community must "respond to the call of the African people, and must help end the murderous reign of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe," he said Sunday. The prime minister also called for troops to "dislodge" Mugabe as the country's humanitarian crisis worsens.
A complete collapse of the health system and sanitation infrastructure has given way to a major cholera epidemic spreading throughout the country, and a breakdown in delivery of medications for HIV-AIDS, TB, malaria and chronic illness. Essential medicines are unavailable to treat the very diseases that the government's gross negligence has exacerbated. Anti-retroviral therapy for HIV/AIDS patients and TB treatment for chronically ill patients has been severely disrupted.
The World Health Organization reports that 11,700 people in Zimbabwe have contracted the curable disease and over 600 have died from it since August -- but Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights have said the numbers are being underreported. The Chairman of the group, Douglas Gwatidzo, in an interview with Voice of America, said the Health Minister's cholera emergency declaration was late in coming.
A group of former leaders known as The Elders -- including U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and human rights campaigner Graca Machel , expressed "bitter disappointment" in the Mugabe government Sunday, saying it cannot lead Zimbabwe out of its crisis. The group's latest report, on the humanitarian situation calls on SADC leaders to acknowledge the seriousness of the refugee crisis in the region, stop deportations to Zimbabwe and establish a regional coordination mechanism to address and contain Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic. The Elders, who were denied entry to Zimbabwe last month, will meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris on Monday, according to their website.
Last week, Carter said the nation's four major hospitals have shut down. The lack of medicine, equipment, services, and staff, public hospitals and clinics is resulting in preventable deaths. There is no access to care for those who cannot afford private clinics. The only maternity hospital in the capital is also closed and pregnant women and newborns are not receiving necessary health care. Health workers organized a demonstration in the capital, calling for better pay and working conditions.
Tough talk from world leaders is welcoming. Let's hope, for the millions of lives at stake, tough action follows soon.