80 children die in Zimbabwe measles outbreak

Tuesday August 16 2022
A child gets vaccinated.

A child gets vaccinated. Eighty children have died following a measles outbreak in Zimbabwe. PHOTO | FILE


A measles outbreak has caused the death of 80 children in Zimbabwe with members of indigenous churches that resist vaccination being the hardest-hit, the government said on Monday.

The Ministry of Health and Child Care blamed the outbreak, with a case fatality rate of 6.9 percent, on an upsurge in church gatherings that followed the lifting of Covid-19 lockdowns.

Health and Child Care Secretary Jasper Chimedza said that as of August 11, the country had recorded 1,036 suspected cases and 125 confirmed cases of measles since the outbreak in April.

“The Ministry of Health and Child Care wishes to inform the public that the ongoing outbreak of measles, which was first reported on the 10th of April, has since spread nationwide following church gatherings,” Dr Chimedza said in a statement.

“These gatherings, which were attended by people from different provinces of the country with unknown vaccination status led to the spread of measles to previously unaffected areas.”

The epicentre of the outbreak has been identified as Manicaland, the second-most populous province bordering Mozambique, which reported 356 cases and 45 deaths.


Dr Chimedza said most of the cases were among children aged between six months and 15 years from religious sects.

Some apostolic sects in Zimbabwe prohibit their followers from taking vaccinations or medical treatment as it is against their church doctrine.

They lure millions into their congregations by promising them healing and instant riches.

The sects have in recent months been holding big gatherings across the country, which are often attended by top government officials as they present a large voting bloc.

Zimbabwe will hold general elections next year and President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been using the church gatherings to campaign for re-election.

It is feared that the measles outbreak will put more pressure on the country’s already ailing health delivery system at a time Zimbabwe is still battling to contain the outbreak of Covid-19.

Zimbabwe’s health sector has been on a decline for years due to lack of funding and severe brain drain.

Poorly paid health workers regularly go on strike demanding better working conditions and equipment.

A month ago, health workers went on a week-long strike demanding to be paid in foreign currency as the country’s re-introduced currency is rapidly losing value against the United States dollar.

The doctors, nurses and pharmacists also wanted the government to re-equip public hospitals, which they said have become a health hazard for patients.

President Mnangagwa’s government blames sanctions imposed on the country by Western countries for the deterioration of the health delivery system.

However, countries such as the United States, which imposed travel bans on Zimbabwe’s elites, say the embargo does not affect ordinary people.