C. Nicholas Cuneo | Richard Sollom | Chris Beyrer
Date of Publication:
Health and Human Rights
The 2008–2009 Zimbabwe cholera epidemic resulted in 98,585 reported cases and caused more than 4,000 deaths. In this study, we used a mixed-methods approach that combined primary qualitative data from a 2008 Physicians for Human Rights-led investigation with a systematic review and content analysis of the scientific literature. Our initial investigation included semi-structured interviews of 92 key informants, which we supplemented with reviews of the social science and human rights literature, as well as international news reports. Our systematic review of the scientific literature retrieved 59 unique citations, of which 30 met criteria for inclusion in the content analysis: 14 of the 30 (46.7%) articles mentioned the political dimension of the epidemic, while 7 (23.3%) referenced Mugabe or his political party. Our investigation revealed that the 2008–2009 Zimbabwean cholera epidemic was exacerbated by a series of human rights abuses, including the politicization of water, health care, aid, and information. The failure of the scientific community to directly address the political determinants of the epidemic exposes challenges to maintaining scientific integrity in the setting of humanitarian responses to complex health and human rights crises. While the period of the cholera epidemic and the health care system collapse is now nearly a decade in the past, the findings of this work remain highly relevant for Zimbabwe and other countries, as complex health and rights interactions remain widespread, and governance concerns continue to limit improvements in human health.