Zimbabwe has declared a national emergency over a cholera epidemic and health care system collapse, and is seeking more international help to pay for food, drugs and hospital equipment, the state-run newspaper said Thursday.

"Our central hospitals are literally not functioning," Minister of Health David Parirenyatwa said Wednesday at a meeting of government and international aid officials, according to The Herald newspaper.

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The health minister declared the state of emergency at the meeting, and appealed for money to pay for food, drugs, hospital equipment and salaries for doctors and nurses.

"Our staff is demotivated and we need your support to ensure that they start coming to work and our health system is revived," he was quoted as saying.

A cholera epidemic blamed on lack of water treatment and broken sewage pipes has killed more than 500 people across the country, the United Nations said.

Without help, the situation could get much worse, said Walter Mzembi, the deputy water minister who also attended Wednesday's meeting. He said the ministry has only enough chemicals to treat water nationally for 12 more weeks.

U.N. agencies, embassies and aid groups at the meeting pledged to help, The Herald said.

The European Commission said it would provide more than $12 million for drugs and clean water, and the International Red Cross said it would release more funds to help deal with cholera.

"We need to pool our resources together and see how best we can respond to this emergency," Agostinho Zacarias, the U.N. Development Program director in Zimbabwe, was quoted as saying.

Zimbabwe is suffering from the world's highest inflation, and Zimbabweans face daily shortages of food and other basic goods.

The government, meanwhile, has been paralyzed since disputed March elections, with President Robert Mugabe and the opposition wrangling over a power-sharing deal.

Despite the threat of arrest, Zimbabweans have increasingly been willing to protest for more government response to the worsening crisis. Riot police on Wednesday charged a group of protesting doctors and nurses and broke up other demonstrations. Several activists were reportedly detained, apparently to keep them from rallying protesters.

In neighboring South Africa, where increasing numbers of Zimbabweans are seeking cholera treatment, the crisis was being discussed at the highest levels.

South African President Kgalema Motlanthe planned to convene a Cabinet meeting "to consider ways in which South Africa could work with other countries in the region, donor organizations and (aid groups) to address the urgent need for food and other humanitarian needs," government spokesman Themba Maseko said Thursday.

Earlier this week, South African officials said the bacteria that causes cholera had been found in South African waters in the Limpopo River, which forms part of the country's border with Zimbabwe.