Zimbabwe’s latest outbreak of measles – an infectious viral disease that usually strikes in childhood – has killed at least 157 children in the country in recent weeks and caused more than 2,000 cases of the disease nationwide, it was reported on Tuesday. Agence France-Presse (AFP).
“As of August 15, the cumulative figure across the country has risen to 2,056 cases and 157 deaths,” Zimbabwe’s Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa told reporters after a regular cabinet meeting that day.
Mutsvangwa said Zimbabwe’s government planned to step up measles vaccination efforts in the coming days and had “invoked special legislation allowing it to draw money from the national disaster fund” to deal with the outbreak. ’emergency “”.
She noted that most of the children who have died of measles so far during the outbreak “have not been vaccinated. [against measles].”
AFP described Zimbabwe’s August 16 measles outbreak as having started “earlier this month, with reported deaths nearly doubling in less than a week”.
An official statement from the Zimbabwean Ministry of Health released on August 11 describes the same measles outbreak that began on April 10.
Reuters, which reviewed the statement, reported the following on August 14:
In a statement seen by Reuters on Sunday [August 14]the ministry said the outbreak has now spread nationwide, with a case fatality rate of 6.9%.
Health Secretary Jasper Chimedza said Thursday [August 11]1,036 suspected cases and 125 confirmed cases have been reported since the outbreak, with Manicaland in eastern Zimbabwe accounting for most of the infections. […]
Most of the reported cases are in children between the ages of six months and 15 years old belonging to religious sects who are not vaccinated against measles due to religious beliefs, he added.
Chimedza specifically blamed the large gatherings of people belonging to the various apostolic sects in Zimbabwe for allegedly spreading measles.
The Zimbabwean Apostolic Sect community “is not a homogeneous religious entity, and therefore the Apostolic Religion comprises several sects, and each with different interpretations of Apostolic teachings and practices,” observed the United Nations Humanitarian Fund. Childhood (UNICEF) in 2011.
“Others base their teachings and practices on the Bible, the philosophy and doctrine of the founders, the “revelation of and of the Holy Spirit” or Mweya, a mixture of beliefs including certain aspects of African culture and religion, and modernity [sic]“, said UNICEF.
Apostolic sect congregations in Zimbabwe – and neighboring South Africa, where Apostolic sect communities also have a presence – often have low vaccination rates. This stems from the belief of many apostolic cult leaders that the modern health care system is “worldly (pagan)”.
“[T]These beliefs among ultra-conservative apostolic groups act as a barrier to the adoption of modern health services and medicines [such as inoculations]“, according to UNICEF.
The US-based Mayo Clinic notes on its website that while measles was “once quite common”, it can now “almost always be prevented with a vaccine”.
“Also called rubella, measles spreads easily and can be serious and even fatal for young children. While death rates have plummeted around the world as more children receive the measles vaccine, the disease still kills more than 200,000 people a year, mostly children,” according to the University Medical Center. non-profit.
Zimbabwe is a deeply impoverished nation that lacks a functioning health system after decades of socialist rule. This means that Zimbabwean citizens in general, regardless of religious affiliation, have low vaccination rates against common diseases such as measles.
UNICEF observed that Zimbabweans generally show “hesitancy” and “refusal” to vaccinate their children in a report published in December 2016, writing:
Vaccine-preventable diseases contribute to the total number of child deaths amounting to approximately 38,766 deaths per year. These deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases are inexcusable and tragic. Vaccination hesitancy and refusal continue to pose challenges to achieving immunization goals in the country and potentially affect the country’s ability to significantly reduce infant and child mortality.
“Households affiliated with the apostolic faith were less likely to be vaccinated against BCG, measles and polio than other Christian groups,” according to UNICEF.
“BCG” stands for Bacillus Calmette-Guérin, which is a vaccine primarily used against tuberculosis.