Health officials in Zimbabwe are attempting to contain a measles outbreak that has infected more than 2,000 people and killed at least 157 children. The country’s health ministry blames the outbreak on religious sects that are against vaccinations. The government wants all children vaccinated before schools reopen in early September.
Zimbabwe’s information minister, Monica Mutsvangwa, said the infectious viral disease - which causes a fever and a red rash - was rampant in Manicaland province, which borders Mozambique.
She said 1,270 cases and 122 deaths had been recorded in the province as of Tuesday.
“All the victims had not received vaccinations against measles. Government has invoked Civil Protection Unit Act to deal with the emergency, and the Ministry of Health and Child Care is on the ground carrying out an intensive vaccination program," Mutsvangwa said. "Cabinet has directed the Ministry of Health and Child Care to engage traditional and faith leaders for their support on the vaccination program.
The government is trying to vaccinate all children between ages six and 15 with the help of U.N. agencies such as UNICEF and the World Health Organization, said July Moyo, Zimbabwe’s minister of local government.
Moyo said the goal is to finish the vaccinations as soon as possible.
“The Civil Protection Unit met to analyze what has to be done. What they are sure of is that this spread (of measles) now needs to be tackled as an emergency," Moyo said. "We have now mobilized resources to make sure that the children are vaccinated before schools open. This July and August, we have a lot of churches that assemble and we think that is the way this measles can be spread so we are targeting those, so that they can be vaccinated.”
Dr. Cleophas Chimbetete, president of Zimbabwe College of Public Health Physicians, says the government must continue talking to religious leaders of sects that do not believe in vaccination to prevent more measles outbreaks.
“This is the second one and it’s sad because measles is one of the vaccine preventable diseases of childhood... Such an outbreak shows that things really are not functioning as they should in terms of our public health system.... In this case, you realize that the majority of children that are being affected belong to a certain sect and sadly this sect does not consent to vaccination of children," Chimbetete said.
A previous measles outbreak in Manicaland province in May affected 137 people and caused about 20 deaths.