Feature: Zimbabwe battles measles outbreak with mass immunization drive


  • World
  • Saturday, 17 Sep 2022

by Tafara Mugwara

CHITUNGWIZA, Zimbabwe, Sept. 16 (Xinhua) -- Twenty-six-year-old Rachel Chikowe and her toddler lay in bed as they waited to receive medical attention at a clinic in Chitungwiza, a dormitory town near the capital Harare.

Her husband, Kudakwashe Nyikadzino, and their visibly worried two other toddlers stood by the bedside. Having been unvaccinated, the mother and her three children were all infected with the contagious measles virus.

"I was not immunized because of belief. When I fell sick I asked others and they recommended vaccination, that is why I am here," Chikowe told Xinhua, as she struggled to properly speak due to a sore throat.

Experience is the best teacher, the mother of three said. "To those who haven't been immunized I advise them to come for their immunization because this is a deadly disease," said Chikowe.

Her husband Nyikadzino said due to religion, the family had largely shunned national immunization programs.

Outside the ward, children's cries echoed through the corridors as mothers waited for their turns to have their children immunized.

"We have come for measles immunization. It's important for our children to be protected from measles because it's a deadly disease, that's why we have come for the injections. It's important to do it on time because if you miss it that will affect children's health," said Esther Magweja, a mother who had brought her two children to be vaccinated.

More than 6,500 cases of measles have been reported in Zimbabwe since April this year, with nearly half of the cases having been recorded in the Manicaland province where there is a large concentration of people who don't want to go to a hospital because of belief. More than 700 deaths have also been recorded nationwide during the same period. Most reported cases are among children aged between six months and 15 years from families who do not believe in vaccination.

In response, a vaccination campaign began on Aug. 29 targeting children between the ages of six to 59 months.

Tonderai Kasu, director of Health and Environmental Services for the Municipality of Chitungwiza, said most of the cases and the deaths in the current outbreak are among children that were not vaccinated.

"There have always been objectors to vaccination, but we have been working with the community leaders in Chitungwiza, so I am happy to report that we have managed to reach a lot of those children who traditionally would not have been vaccinated in the current campaign," he said.

In addition, Kasu said the outbreak has also been attributed to the disruption of routine vaccination activities by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We went through a number of national lockdowns during the last two years because of the coronavirus pandemic, and what that did was it created a situation whereby the parents and the caregivers were not able to easily bring the children for vaccination," he said.

Furthermore, Kasu said since the beginning of the vaccination campaign in Chitungwiza, more than 33,350 children against a target population of just over 64,000 have been vaccinated.

Mercy Chamunorwa, a mother, advised parents to adhere to national vaccination requirements.

"I want to advise those who haven't immunized their children to come for the vaccinations. We were skeptical at first but we made up our minds to come for the immunization, so they should come to immunize their children, they shouldn't be afraid to have their children immunized," she said.

Measles is a highly contagious virus that spreads through the air by direct contact with infectious droplets or by airborne spread when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes.

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