27 Dec 2010

Moderate members of Zimbabwe sect join health teams to stop extremists from killing children out of religious ignorance

The Standard - Zimbabwe September 18, 2010

Apostolic faith members take up health advisers’ role in Chikomba


CHIKOMBA — Thirty-one-year-old Nomore Rwambiwa from Gonzo Village in Chikomba, Mashonaland East is still haunted by several deaths that occurred in his area a few months ago during the measles outbreak.

Rwambiwa says many children succumbed to the preventable disease in the area.

He said parents of most of the victims were members of Apostolic Faith sects who were against the use of modern medicine.

“It was a very difficult time for us because we watched helplessly as children died like rats,” Rwambiwa said.

“It pains me up to now because there was nothing we could do as we had no power to stop the tragic loss of life.”

Rwambiwa said even after reporting the deaths to the police and health officials they were unable to save many other affected children.

“Whenever health officials visited their homes they would run into the mountains and hide their sick children or even hide them in granaries at their homesteads,” he recalled.

Rwambiwa is himself a member of one of the sects known as the Church of God, which however does not discourage its members from using modern medicine.

He says the deaths spurred him to become a village health worker under a programme promoted by the Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) with support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).

He was among 300 volunteers who graduated at a ceremony held at Chikomba growth point recently and will be expected to play a key role in providing desperately needed primary health in their area.

“When I heard about the village health worker’s programme I immediately knew that was a calling from God,” he said.

“I knew that this was a chance to help my community and prevent what happened during that measles outbreak.”

Rwambiwa believes that being a member of an apostolic faith sect will help him convince those who still shun modern medicine to reconsider.

CWGH’s programme seeks to reduce the high rates of maternal and neo natal deaths in Zimbabwe by bringing health services closer to rural communities.

Sarah Munyanyi from Masaraure Village also in Chikomba who is a member of the Zviratidzo Zvevapostori sect and now a volunteer health worker believes she can also make a difference.

“The measles outbreak was very unfortunate as a lot of children died because of the ignorance of their parents,” said Munyanyi who was one of the graduates.

“Had I been a village health worker then I don’t think I would have allowed such suffering and loss of life.”

“I want to reach out to these religious objectors and show them that going to hospital is simply moving with the times.

“The world is now full of sin that’s why there are many diseases, which makes seeking treatment important.

“It is now different from the times of Jesus and that’s what people need to understand.”
Munyanyi said she aims to reach out to women who are easily influenced by their husbands who may be religious extremists.

“Many times during the measles outbreak I would speak to these women after losing their children and they would say they don’t want to lose another child.

“They wanted to take those who survived to hospital but they were afraid of their husbands.

“Women are easily touched by pain and death than men.”

Itai Rusike, the CWGH director speaking at the graduation ceremony said he believed the inclusion of members of the apostolic faith sects in the progamme will go a long way in changing attitudes towards modern medicine in the traditional churches.

“Being members of apostolic faith sects themselves they are better positioned to talk to their own since they are all believers,” Rusike said.

The government and its partners were early this year forced to embark on a nationwide emergency vaccination programme to stop the measles outbreak that killed hundreds of children.

At least 90% of the measles deaths were attributed to the refusal by religious groups to have their children immunised.

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