Friday, 29 April 2022


A SEVERE measles outbreak has hit Mutasa District, killing at least six children who had been denied access to health facilities by their apostolic families.

The minors’ burials was fast tracked to conceal the cause of their deaths.

This has revoked sad memories of 2010 when the disease killed many children who were denied access to vaccines.

Measles is a viral infection that starts in the respiratory system, and still remains a significant cause of death for children under the age of five despite the availability of safe and effective vaccines in the country.

The virus is transmitted by airborne droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs, and immunisation is among the most successful and cost effective prevention interventions available.

This, however, faces radical resistance from members of some apostolic churches whose doctrines abhor health seeking behaviour.

The disease can also affect pregnant mothers, thereby causing foetal death or congenital defects, blindness, deafness, congenital heart disease and mental retardation in new born babies.

A team led by Manicaland Provincial Medical Director (PMD), Dr Simon Nyadundu was on Wednesday in Mutasa to assess the situation on the ground.

Mutasa District Medical Officer (DMO), Dr Cephas Fonte said the children – who all had symptoms like cough, fever, running nose, red eyes, sore throat, white spots inside the mouth and widespread skin rash – died before clinical investigations which later confirmed the outbreak, and had their burials fast-tracked.

Dr Fonte said an alert village health worker in the Zindi area raised a red flag after detecting that some children had measles symptoms, prompting her health superiors to collect samples to test for the disease.

“There is a measles outbreak in the district following reports from Zindi Clinic where a village health worker raised alarm that she had identified children with measles symptoms. We then conducted investigations, and collected about six samples, of which two tested positive for the disease. The unfortunate part is that the measles outbreak started from religious objectors who are very difficult to engage.

“We have enlisted the services of traditional leaders, among other stakeholders, to try and find ways of penetrating the area, and a breakthrough is imminent. Our teams are on the ground vaccinating the children,” said Dr Fonte.

While the faith-healing apostolic churches believe in the power of prayer rather than medicine, this culture has been criticised as children succumb to curable diseases due to their parents’ beliefs.

Although the Constitution guarantees freedom of worship, it does not permit children to be harmed through religious practices, nor does it allow religion to harm a child.

“There were six suspected measles deaths recorded this month, and the unfortunate part is that these deaths occurred before the outcome of our clinical tests. Most of them occurred from religious objectors who fast-tracked the burial of the children.

“It was when we started probing the deaths that we picked information that the affected children had the aforementioned measles symptoms,” said Dr Fonte.

He said the most common symptoms among children under five years old include diarrhoea, dehydration, pneumonia and convulsions, which are very dangerous.

He said the measles vaccine is readily available, and apart from it, children are also getting Vitamin A to boost their immune systems.

Measles remains an major cause of child mortality, although the numbers of measles-related deaths has decreased during the last decade as a result of childhood immunisation programmes and follow-up vaccine campaigns.

Despite rapidly increasing measles immunisation coverage in the province, measles remain endemic, and regular outbreaks occur.

The most recent outbreak occurred in 2010 when a significant number of children died in Marange.

The peak incidence occur among under two-year-olds, followed by those aged between five and seven.

Poor nutrition and failure to vaccinate children against measles are blamed for the outbreak of the disease.

“Children with symptoms and those who are due for the vaccine must be taken to the nearest health facility for vaccination. Measles is not curable, but we can only manage the symptoms. Our clinics throughout the district are adequately stocked and ready to assist anyone who needs assistance,” said Dr Fonte. Manica Post


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