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Religious Beliefs, Terrain Hampering Measles Immunization Program in Zimbabwe


A poster in Harare calling on Zimbabwean citizens to immunise children against measles in 2019 still hangs in Harare three years later. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)

Zimbabwe’s government says religious beliefs, topography and school closures are hampering efforts to contain a measles outbreak which has claimed at least 20 lives and infected hundreds of other people in the eastern part of the country. As The World Health Organization says the country must intensify its surveillance system and vaccinate all children.

Dr. Cephas Fonte, the Mutasa district medical officer where the measles outbreak was discovered last month, says more than 100 children are being treated for the infectious viral disease which causes a fever and a red rash. Fonte says logistical factors have impacted the response time.

Dr. Cephas Fonte, the Mutasa district medical officer where the measles outbreak was discovered last month, says more than 100 children are being treated for the infectious viral disease which causes a fever and a red rash. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)
Dr. Cephas Fonte, the Mutasa district medical officer where the measles outbreak was discovered last month, says more than 100 children are being treated for the infectious viral disease which causes a fever and a red rash. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)

“Mutasa is a mountainous area, so some areas are hard to reach. We have some of our friends who are religious objectors, so it has been hard to break through to them, though they are slowly responding now. I think by the end of next week, we would have achieved something,” he said.

He also says school closures have posed a challenge but that with schools reopening now...

“We are now reaching those children while they are clustered at one place, which becomes faster for us," he said.

Dr. Alex Gasasira heads the World Health Organization’s country office in Zimbabwe. He says the U.N. body has been working with the government to ensure that the disease is contained through immunization.

Dr. Alex Gasasira, seen here in Harare in Dec. 2020, heads the World Health Organization in Zimbabwe. He says the U.N. body has been working with the government to ensure that the disease is contained through immunization. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)
Dr. Alex Gasasira, seen here in Harare in Dec. 2020, heads the World Health Organization in Zimbabwe. He says the U.N. body has been working with the government to ensure that the disease is contained through immunization. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)

“The vaccine is the best prevention. We are also strengthening surveillance, ensuring parents, community members are aware and they report any child who has any symptoms suggesting measles. We are also ensuring that opportunities for vaccination are enhanced. This we should do throughout the country not just in the affected communities because we know that measles is very, very transmissible; it spreads very, very fast,” he said.

Tariro Mhando, a public health officer from the University of Zimbabwe, has been deployed to investigate why there is an outbreak of the measles, a disease which was last recorded in the country more than 10 years ago.

Tariro Mhando (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)
Tariro Mhando (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)

“What we found out is most cases, the deaths that were recorded are not vaccinated and we have most cases in unvaccinated as well. And only the few that have [been vaccinated] have mild symptoms,” she said.

The government says it hopes to conduct immunizations for measles throughout Zimbabwe in the coming weeks to contain the disease.

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