28 Dec 2010

Some Zimbabwe sect children forcibly immunised for measles, countless others die needlessly

Zimbabwe Guardian - September 27, 2010

Apostolic sect children forcibly immunised against measles

OVER 100 children belonging to the Johane Marange Apostolic sect in Mbire District, Mashonaland Central Province, were last week forcibly immunised against measles following an outbreak that claimed several children over the past month.

A home-based care worker in Mudzengerere village, Mr Fibion Rupiya, sought assistance from the police and health officials after realising that several children belonging to the sect who were dying had suspected symptoms of measles.

"This outbreak apparently started a month ago in Katsande Ward but we did not know that it was measles. A lot of children belonging to this sect died, some were clandestinely buried and we cannot really account for the number of deaths.

"When the number of children dying among the same group continued to grow, we suspected measles but were ignorant of its symptoms so we sought assistance from health officials and the police (to get access into the community)," said Mr Rupiya.

He said a team of health officials immunised the children last week on Monday and Tuesday.

"Some children were locked up in bedrooms and others were hidden in the bush, but we assisted them in identifying homes where we knew there were children who should be immunised," Mr Rupiya said.

He said 17 cases of children who died due to measles were recorded, but said the number could be double since more were buried secretly.

Some of the women members of the sect whose children were immunised against their doctrine, applauded authorities for forcing all children to be immunised saying their husbands were not willing to discuss the subject.

"We welcome this programme because we are tired of seeing our children die.

"We want them to be immunised because it works but our husbands overrule us. It is very difficult to bring the subject up for discussion as you risk being beaten up," said one woman who preferred anonymity.

She said she had so far lost four children to measles, but her husband insisted that holy water would save them.

The Mudzengerere woman said she learnt that immunisation worked when one of her children was immunised at school in May without the family’s knowledge.

She said when a fresh outbreak attacked the child this month, it was mild but her other child who had never been immunised before died after contracting the disease.

She had already lost two children during the initial outbreak in February and March. The two had never beenimmunised before.

Village head Mr Chigada Mudzengerere said the crisis could have been averted if there were proper communication systems in place in Mudzengerere Village.

Mr Mudzengerere said there were no telephones in the area making it difficult to call for assistance when tragedy struck.

He appealed for assistance to build a satellite clinic in the village that is home to nearly 500 people. At present villagers have to go to Masomo Clinic or Msengezi Hospital — both of which are inaccessible once the rains start.

"There are huge impassable rivers once the rains begins, in both directions either to Masomo Clinic or to Msengezi Hospital. The bridges were washed away by the rains and when they are flooded, we cannot go anywhere," he said.

He said a mobile clinic was usually stationed at the shopping centre, but once it started raining, it was also difficult for the health workers to reach out to the community.

At least 70 children died of measles in Mashonaland Central recently. About 24 deaths were confirmed by health officials in Chiweshe, while the remainder were reported in Mbire.

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