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Millions of Children at Risk of Measles in Zimbabwe

  • Lisa Schlein

U.N. agencies report some five million children in Zimbabwe are at risk of getting measles. They say hundreds of children already have died from this preventable disease.

The World Health Organization, U.N. Children's Fund and other agencies are in the midst of a huge campaign to immunize about five million children, aged six months to 14 years, against measles.

This comes in response to current measles outbreaks that have affected 55 out of Zimbabwe's 62 districts since September.

A spokeswoman for the U.N. Children's Fund, Christiane Berthiaume, tells VOA that, since September, nearly 400 children have died from measles and around 7,000 cases have been reported.

"Measles is really a preventable disease," said Christiane Berthiaume. "Normally, kids do not die of measles. But, in Zimbabwe where before kids were immunized against measles, I mean 80 percent of the children were immunized against that disease 10 years ago. But, this coverage has dropped to less than 50 percent."

This is why the World Health Organization, or WHO, recommends routine immunizations be strengthened after the measles campaign.

Aid agencies are hoping the immunization campaign, which runs through June 2, will stop the spread of the killer disease.

Zimbabwe is also beset by other health problems, including water and sanitation issues and the loss of health personnel who are lured abroad by higher-paying jobs.

The World Health Organization reports that cholera, once again, has broken out in Zimbabwe. But, so far, it says the outbreak is not too serious. It notes 15 out of the 62 districts in the country have been affected since early February, compared to 54 districts last year at the same time.

WHO says Zimbabwe's Ministry of Health and Child Welfare reports that by May 9, there were 477 suspected cholera cases and 15 deaths. However, at the same time last year, more than 4,000 deaths and nearly 98,000 cases of cholera were reported.

Because of the country's poor water supply, WHO says hundreds of people have become sick with typhoid and at least eight deaths have been reported.