Measles kills 14 in Zimbabwe as 17 500 cases recorded in Africa this year

A health worker of the Congolese Ministry of Health is preparing a syringe with a measles vaccine dose. (Supplied by Bhekisisa, Samuel Sieber, MSF)
A health worker of the Congolese Ministry of Health is preparing a syringe with a measles vaccine dose. (Supplied by Bhekisisa, Samuel Sieber, MSF)
  • Seventy-two cases of measles were reported in an outbreak that has killed 14 children in Zimbabwe.
  • Between January and March this year, the WHO recorded about 17 500 cases in Africa.
  • The WHO conducts routine vaccination campaigns to counter vaccine-preventable diseases.

A measles outbreak in Zimbabwe has resulted in the death of 14 children in Manicaland, at a time when about 17 500 cases have been confirmed in Africa so far this year.

In a statement, Zimbabwe's health ministry said 72 cases had been recorded.

"To date, a total of 72 cases and 14 deaths have been reported. Of the reported cases, only nine had been vaccinated, while the remainder had not been vaccinated or their vaccination status is unknown," said the ministry.

With a low vaccination rate and, in some cases, no record keeping, the government has since resolved to start a mass vaccination campaign in areas where the outbreak was recorded.

READ | WHO urges African countries to integrate routine vaccination programmes with Covid-19 jabs

"To control this outbreak, the ministry has started a mass vaccination campaign in Mutasa District, Manicaland Province, targeting the six months to 15 years, regardless of their vaccination status," the ministry said.

The new cases recorded in Zimbabwe, with a mortality rate of 19.4%, are a shock to the country's shambolic health sector - and the government has since called on the World Health Organisation (WHO) for assistance.

In Zimbabwe, measles, along with poliomyelitis, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus and tuberculosis, are called the "six child killer diseases".

Fighting measles in Africa

"Almost 17 500 cases of measles were recorded in the African region between January and March 2022, marking a 400% increase compared with the same period in 2021. Twenty African countries reported measles outbreaks in the first quarter of this year, eight more than that in the first three months of 2021," the WHO said.

The sudden rise in measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases is largely blamed on disruptions by Covid-19, which resulted in huge strains on health system capacities in many African countries.

Two doses of the measles vaccine provided on schedule results in long-lasting protection against the potentially deadly disease, the WHO said, urging more African countries to scale up measles vaccination programmes.

"WHO and partners are supporting African countries to carry out catch-up routine vaccination campaigns," the organisation said.

Last week, Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO's regional director for Africa, told journalists that vaccines were at the heart of successful public health response - and, as countries restore services, routine immunisation must be at the core of revived and resilient health systems.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.
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