BY VANESSA GONYE
HEALTH experts have raised concern over the outbreak of the deadly measles, which has already claimed 80 lives countrywide, saying this could continue to spread if anti-immunisation religious sects are not engaged over the disease.
Already, there are 1 036 suspected cases that have been reported, while the first case on April 10 was in Mutasa district, Manicaland province.
Measles is highly contagious and can affect the respiratory tract. It is spread through sneezing, coughing and touching secretions.
The measles vaccine was introduced in 1963, and major epidemics occur approximately every two to three years, with an estimated 2,6 million deaths each year globally.
Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) executive director Itai Rusike told NewsDay that it is sad that Zimbabwe was still grappling with medieval diseases which have long been forgotten in other parts of the world.
He said there was need to strengthen awareness to combat the disease, especially among anti-vaccination religious sects.
“Community health workers (CHWs) are playing a central role by raising awareness, mobilising communities during outreach programmes and for measles immunisation. CHWs are the link between the community and the health department. They advise and refer the community to seek medical attention early thereby closing the gap between public health services and communities at local level, bringing health services outreach programmes to communities, and facilitating community roles in the health delivery services,” Rusike said.
“The religious objectors are also being engaged through their various leadership, and are being reminded of the dangers of not getting their children vaccinated. Unvaccinated young children under five years are at highest risk of measles and its complications, including death. Unvaccinated pregnant women are also at risk. Any non-immune person (who has not been vaccinated or was vaccinated but did not develop immunity) can become infected.”
Health expert Josephat Chiripanyanga said anti-vaccination religious sects should be encouraged to take their children for vaccination so as to reduce fatalities.
In a statement over the weekend, Health and Child Care secretary Jasper Chimedza said as of Thursday last week, 1 036 suspected cases and 125 confirmed cases had been reported since the April outbreak, with Manicaland province accounting for most infections.
Most of the reported cases were of children aged between six and 15 months from religious sects which do not believe in vaccination.