Harare, Zimbabwe. – Nearly 70 children in Zimbabwe died of measles in a two-week period recently after communities of religious sects drove away government health teams trying to immunise their children, the health ministry said.
The “Vapostori”, or “apostles”, combine Christian fundamentalism and African traditional practices. They forbid the use of Western medicine and insist on treating the ill with “holy water” and prayer.
The government has tried for years to persuade the sect leaders to allow children to be immunised against measles and other diseases, with little success.
In May, health authorities mounted a massive countrywide immunisation campaign after a surge in the viral disease had killed 400, mostly among the sects, ministry disease control director Portia Manangazira was quoted as saying in the state-run Herald newspaper today.
She said they noted “a significant decline” in the incidence of measles.
“There are, however, areas that have continued to report cases of measles because the communities have continued to evade health authorities. The persistent refusal means these closed communities have large numbers of unvaccinated children,” she said.
She said two religious communities, one in south-west Zimbabwe and another in the Mazowe district 40 kilometres north of Harare had “chased away the campaign teams”.
She said she knew of 24 children who died in Mazowe during the fortnight, and 40 in a district further north.
Medical teams had been dispatched to try to contain the outbreaks.