10 Dec 2010

Malawi Christian sect refuses to vaccinate children against measles claiming it is God's will for them to get sick

Google News - Associated Press June 20, 2010

Malawi: Christian sect in measles vaccine standoff


BLANTYRE, Malawi — More than 100 members of a Christian religious sect have barricaded themselves in an abandoned building in southern Malawi over their refusal to give their children the measles vaccine, a regional health official said Wednesday.

Members of Seventh Day Apostolic Church say their doctrine forbids them from taking medication when they fall sick, as they believe prayer will bring divine healing.

The weeklong standoff in the district of Mulanje follows an outbreak of the highly contagious disease which has killed 48 people in the southern African country this year. Another 9,600 cases have been registered, the government said.

Malawi's government says at least six million children in Malawi under the age of 15 require vaccination against measles.

But when it came to vaccinating the children of members of the Apostolic Church, the government hit a brick wall. Church leaders say they believe only God — not medicine — can cure people.

"Our church doctrine forbids us from taking any medication because medicines are manufactured by man," Apostle Hosea Biniwasi, a senior elder of the church, told The Associated Press. "It is God's will for man to get sick from time to time. By taking medicines are you trying to challenge God?"

The standoff has reached the attention of a higher power. Rev. Billy Gama, a religious adviser to the presidency, has urged members of the church to consider revisiting their doctrine, but said authorities' hands are tied as they cannot force them to proffer their children for the lifesaving jab.

Local officials say they too have met with resistance in their quest to end the impasse.

"We are trying to dialogue with them to convince them to come out and have their children vaccinated against measles," said Bosco Kalua, an environmental health officer in Mulanje district.

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