via Health ministry must be more responsible November 6, 2013 NewsDay Editorial
REPORTS that three children aged between five and eight this week died after reacting to bilharzia and intestinal worm medication that is being administered to children under the mass drug administration campaign are saddening.
The deaths in Budiriro and Kambuzuma in Harare and Redcliff in Kwekwe confirmed by Secretary for Health and Child Care Gerald Gwinji should jolt government to institute investigations into the matter to establish what could have gone wrong.
The bilharzia and intestinal worms mass drug administration exercise is targeting at least four million children and is being carried out in both primary and secondary schools as well as at designated health facilities across the country.
Most parents have been made to sign indemnity forms allowing their children to be vaccinated against the so-called bilharzia and intestinal worms, but when this is done without due regard then we will have problems — first doubting whether the medication is valid or expired.
Besides, there was never any campaign to conscientise the country on the side effects of the medication so that parents could sign the indemnity forms from an informed position. With the deaths of these lovely children no one would blame parents who would withdraw their support for the drug.
The fact that parents and/or guardians of the three children did not seek medical attention after their children were taken ill is neither here nor there, but the fact of the matter remains that the Health ministry did a shoddy job by simply failing to carry a campaign about the mass drug administration before it was launched.
What was the hurry anyway?
What is even worse is that in some cases, thousands of children waiting to be vaccinated are given drinking water before the exercise using just one metal cup as was the case at a school in Harare recently.
We believe schoolchildren are pivotal in any such public health programme, but they must be protected. It appears that those tasked with carrying out this exercise do not care about what happens to the children afterwards.
And so for Gwinji to claim the parents of the deceased children did not report the severe side effects or the assertion that they should have taken the children for medication does not hold water because at many schools in Harare and elsewhere children have been affected and have in many cases vomited or in worse situations collapsed.
This could have been enough if the ministry had proper reporting channels. Gwinji or Minister David Parirenyatwa or his deputy Paul Chimedza, who even defended the exercise as a noble one, should have looked into this before any deaths were reported.
Every life is precious, sacrosanct to say the least and to apportion blame simply shows the arrogance of the Health ministry officials.
The bottom line is that severe side effects of the mass drug administration have been reported widely in the Press and this should simply have moved them into making sure incidents such as these were capped at the very beginning.