Emergency in Zimbabwe—A Legal Response for a Health Crisis

Emergency in Zimbabwe—A Legal Response for a Health Crisis

The unprecedented collapse of Zimbabwe’s health system has left the country’s people in a dire crisis. A cholera epidemic continues to rage six months after it began, TB and AIDS patients do not have access to medication or treatment, and there has been a five-fold increase in maternal mortality. Without functioning public hospitals, the vast majority of the country’s population is left without access to prevention, care, or even emergency services.

As a party to international treaties on human rights, the Zimbabwe government has a legally binding obligation to ensure the provision of at least basic health-related services, including sanitation, water, and essential medicines. With the growing health crisis—a direct outcome of the rampant human rights abuses under the Mugabe administration—there are increasing calls for a strong international response.

Last month, Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch sent delegations to the region to assess the impact of this man-made health crisis—both within Zimbabwe and across the border in South Africa where hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans continue to flee.

The panelists at this Open Society Institute event discussed the findings from their assessments and recommendations for an international response. 


  • Frank Donaghue is the chief executive officer of Physicians for Human Rights.
  • Rebecca Shaeffer is the author of an upcoming Human Rights Watch report on the impact of the recent cholera outbreak on Zimbabwean migrants to South Africa. Shaeffer, the Kroll Family Human Rights Fellow at Human Rights Watch, documents longstanding failures in the South African asylum system to protect Zimbabwean forced migrants, failing to provide them with adequate access to food, shelter, sanitation, and health care.
  • Richard Sollom consults at Physicians for Human Rights, where he focuses on human rights investigations in conflict areas. He serves as coordinator for Physicians for Human Rights' Zimbabwe investigation and also recently traveled to eastern Chad to participate in the organization’s examination of gender-based violence among Darfuri refugees.

The event was introduced by Tawanda Mutasah, director of programs for the Open Society Institute, and moderated by Cynthia Eyakuze, project director of OSI's Public Health Watch.

Date: January 21, 2009
Time: 6:30 p.m.

OSI-New York

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