The number of children killed by measles in Zimbabwe has jumped to 157 from the 80 recorded at the weekend, with more than 2,000 infections reported so far, the government said Wednesday.
Cases were first recorded in Manicaland province on April 10 following large gatherings by apostolic sects and the outbreak has since spread countrywide.
“As of 15 August, the cumulative figure across the country has risen to 2,056 cases and 157 deaths,” Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said.
“It has been noted that most cases had not received vaccination to protect [them] against measles.
“Cabinet has directed the Ministry of Health to engage traditional leaders and faith leaders in the vaccination programme.”
The government said it had invoked special legislation allowing it to draw money from the national disaster fund to deal with the “emergency.”
In a statement earlier this week, the government blamed the outbreak on church sect gatherings.
“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,” the ministry’s secretary Jasper 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.”
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.
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 a severe brain drain.
Poorly paid health workers regularly go on strike demanding better working conditions and equipment.