MASVINGO – At least 15 people have died of measles in Bikita District, bringing the national death toll to 55 since November last year, health officials here have said.
The 15, all believed to be members of the Bikita District, religious sect, died this month after they refused to receive treatment, citing their religious beliefs.
Members of the Apostolic Faith sect countrywide have over the years refused to have their children immunized on religious grounds, resulting in a high infant mortality rate in the country.
Masvingo provincial medical director Robert Mudyirandima confirmed the deaths on Tuesday.
“We have dispatched health personnel in the affected areas “, said Mudyirandima.”The situation is under control since we have enough drugs to deal with the outbreak.”
“Most of the 15 who died were children below the age of 10. We are encouraging people to make sure that their children are immunized to avoid unnecessary loss of human life”.
It also emerged yesterday that the police have since been deployed to the affected areas to force people, especially members of the Apostolic Faith sect to have their children immunized.
Sources within the police force yesterday said that they were just assisting the health officials to control the disease but were not arresting anyone in connection with the deaths.
“We just moved in to assist health personnel after they requested assistance from us,” said a senior police officer who requested anonymity.
“We have deployed officers in the affected areas to ensure that they force people to have their children immunized but we are not going to arrest anyone.”
The hardest hit area in Bikita is Murwira Communal Lands where at least ten deaths were recorded in less than a month.
Measles has also killed about 40 people in Mashonaland Central Province since the beginning of November last year.
The death toll has since risen to 55 amid strong fears that more lives could be lost as members of the Apostolic Faith sect continue to resist moves to have their children immunized.
Zimbabwe’s health delivery system has been facing serious challenges over the last decade, among them a shortage of drugs and qualified health personnel.
The government of national unity formed in February 2009 is battling to bring the health sector back into shape, following years of neglect by President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF government.