Zimbabwe has the public health system of a country at war, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Tuesday, warning that the current cholera outbreak was just one symptom of a wider health crisis.
"The situation now is one ... that you can see in countries affected by conflict or in the immediate aftermath of a conflict," MSF president Christophe Fournier told reporters after a visit to Zimbabwe.
"At the end of the day for the patients, it's the same or even worse in Zimbabwe," he said.
Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic, which has killed 3,525 people since August, was only part of the story, said Fournier.
"This epidemic is only the most visible manifestation of a much broader crisis in the whole country.
"Actually the whole public health system in Zimbabwe is down, it has collapsed," he added.
In a four-page paper entitled "Beyond Cholera: Zimbabwe's worsening crisis", MSF said the government was continuing to hamper aid work despite the state of its health system.
"To the Zimbabwe government, we are requesting unrestricted access to all the population," said Fournier.
Most public hospitals were closed, or empty of staff and essential drugs, one in five adults were HIV positive, and chronic food shortages were fuelling fears of a malnutrition crisis, said MSF.
MSF Zimbabwe head Manuel Lopez said donor aid to people who were suffering could not not depend on the course of Zimbabwe politics and that it was needed immediately.
"It has to come independent from anything happening... in the moment that it is needed," he said, describing Zimbabwe's medical emergency as spiralling out of control.
"People die because clinics are closed, because there is no staff, because there is no medicines or because they don't have the money to pay for the treatments. This has been happening already for a while, now it's getting worse," Lopez said.
Rebuilding the shattered public health system, which collapsed under President Robert Mugabe's 29-year rule, is just one of the tasks of a new unity Zimbabwe government.
The new government held its first cabinet meeting Tuesday nearly a year after disputed polls plunged Zimbabwe into further humanitarian crisis.