Patrick Chitumba, Midlands Bureau Chief
ALMOST 70 children have died following a measles outbreak in the Midlands province driven by a decline in child immunisation especially by members of apostolic sects.
Nationally, the measles outbreak has killed more than 700 children and infected thousands of others highlighting the risks of faltering childhood immunisation campaigns.
This was said by the Midlands provincial medical director Dr Mary Muchekeza on the sidelines of the commissioning of the US$200 000 state –of- the- art Gweru Provincial Hospital (GPH) Opportunistic Infections (OI) / antiretroviral therapy (ART) Centre of Excellence (COE) that will cater for over 3 500 people in need of HIV specialised care and support.
“In terms of disease programmes we are managing as a province, we are in the middle of an ongoing measles outbreak, not only in the Midlands province but in the country as a whole. But our response effort seems to be yielding a lot of positive results as we have seen a decline in the number of cases over the past two weeks,” she said.
Dr Muchekeza said the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoCC) is busy with the measles vaccination programme across the province’s eight districts.
“We are going around the districts vaccinating all children under five years old against measles in order to respond to the ongoing outbreak. As I speak, today our cumulative cases for the measles in the province has been 715 and unfortunately we have lost 69 children and most of these are from the members from the unvaccinated apostolic sect that religiously object to our vaccination campaign and it is our wish that we would do all efforts to try and get them to try and accept vaccination of their children.”
Dr Muchekeza said they are still also vaccinating people against Covid -19 pandemic.
“We are doing vaccination to all eligible populations in the province. In terms of statistics, the first dose is at 55 percent, second dose 34 percent and third dose 10 percent. We would like to do more and our call to the members of the community is to come and take this as this is our best defence against the scourge,” she said.
Dr Muchekeza said there were 260 health centres in the Midlands province serving about two million people.
“Recently the MoCC gave four ambulances to the Midlands province and we have since deployed these to Mberengwa, Zvishavane, Gokwe North and South being our furthest districts to the provincial hospital. We have a desire to have additional ambulances for the other districts remaining because there is acute need for this service,” she said.
In terms of infrastructure development, Dr Muchekeza said there have been some positive developments in terms of construction and commissioning of health centres across the province.
“We recently opened a maternity wing at Mberengwa District hospital, a project which came through with labour being provided by the members of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces and support from Mimosa Mining company. Also opened Gatahwa clinic in Gweru district courtesy of Seventh Day Adventist church. We also commissioned Mapfungautsi clinic in Gokwe South and Hwata clinic in Chirumhanzu district and as of this week we also commissioned a maternity wing at Sherwood clinic,” she said.
Measles was first recorded in Manicaland province on April 10 in Mutasa district.
The Government responded through initiating vaccination of children under five years regardless of vaccination status.
Most of the identified cases have not been vaccinated against measles.
Risk for infection among children under 15 years remains high especially among these anti-vaccination apostolic sects. Consequently, it has led to a surge in deaths and other related complications.
Measles can be a serious disease, with 30 percent of reported cases experiencing one or more complications.
Most complications occur mostly in children and pregnant women. Measles during pregnancy increases the risk of premature labour, miscarriage, and low-birth-weight infants.
Some Apostolic and evangelical pastors have long opposed vaccination, saying their prayers and sacred stones are enough to protect the faithful, and have threatened to expel women who take children to clinics.