A measles outbreak in Zimbabwe has now killed nearly 700 children, in a “deeply worrying” rapid acceleration of the highly contagious disease.
Health officials said so telegraph they were alarmed by both the speed of the spread and the high death rate of the outbreak, which has seen the recent death toll rise by dozens every day.
The emergence of one of the world’s most infectious diseases has taken hold among church congregations that have rejected vaccinations on religious grounds.
Deaths had reached 698 by September 4, according to the nation’s health ministry, up from less than a quarter a fortnight earlier. Officials reported that 37 children died on September 1 alone.
The outbreak is believed to be the worst for some time in the southern African nation of 15 million. The last outbreak 11 years ago was much less severe, health sources said telegraph.
Unicef said that in the worst-hit eastern province of Manicaland, nearly one in 10 of those with the disease were dying. This rate is higher than in other recent African outbreaks.
The UN body said it was “deeply concerned about the number of cases and deaths among children due to an outbreak of measles in Zimbabwe”.
Cases first emerged in April and since then the virus has spread rapidly among congregations in Zimbabwe’s Apostolic churches, which have long rejected vaccinations and modern medicine.
Faith healers and anti-vaxxers
Dr. Johannes Marisa, president of the Association of Private Doctors and Dentists of Zimbabwe, told The Associated Press that the government may have to force children to get vaccinated.
He said: “Because of resistance, education may not be enough, so the government should also consider using coercive measures to ensure that no one can refuse to vaccinate their children.”
He urged the government to “consider enacting legislation to make vaccination against killer diseases such as measles compulsory”.
Zimbabwe’s cabinet has already invoked a law used to respond to disasters to deal with the outbreak and launched a mass vaccination campaign, which will target two million children under the age of five. Nationally, the vaccination rate was around 85 percent in 2020, down from previous years when it sometimes reached 95 percent.
The country’s apostolic churches or sects are believed to be followed by about one in five of the population. Their teachings regularly include a potent mix of opposition to Western medicine and belief in faith and prayer healing, meaning the congregations have become a bastion of anti-vaccination sentiment.
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