(ORDO NEWS) — UNICEF said it was “deeply concerned” after Zimbabwe’s health ministry confirmed that nearly 700 children have died from the latest measles outbreak.
A vaccination campaign is currently under way, but it is facing opposition from anti-vaccination religious groups.
A measles outbreak in Zimbabwe has killed 698 children since it began in April, the South African nation’s health ministry announced over the weekend.
Thirty-seven deaths occurred on the same day on September 1, and by September 4, 6,291 cases had been reported.
The latest figures are more than four times the number of deaths announced about two weeks ago, when the ministry said 157 children had died of the disease, most of whom had not been vaccinated.
Information Minister Monica Mutswangwa said recently that Information Minister Monica Mutswangwa said that children between the ages of six months and 15 are the most affected, especially those from religious sects that do not believe in vaccination.
The government has launched a massive vaccination campaign and is reaching out to religious leaders to garner support and awareness, she added.
UNICEF, the United Nations agency for children, said it was “deeply concerned” about the number of cases and deaths among children and is helping the government fight the outbreak through immunization programs.
French medical non-profit organization MSF (Doctors Without Borders) tweeted that “no child should die from measles.”
Dr. Johannes Marisa, president of the Zimbabwe Association of Medical and Dental Practitioners, said the government should do more to crack down on anti-vaccination religious groups in particular.
“Due to resistance, education may not be enough, so the government should also consider using coercive measures so that no one can refuse to vaccinate their children,” Marisa told AP on Monday.
He urged the government to “consider passing a law that would make vaccination against killer diseases like measles mandatory.”
Zimbabwe continued to vaccinate children against measles even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, but this was thwarted by religious groups who urged their members to rely on self-proclaimed prophets for healing.
Church meetings that resumed after Covid-19 restrictions eased “led to the spread of measles in previously unaffected areas,” the health ministry said in a statement last week.
Measles is one of the most contagious diseases in the world and is mainly spread through the air by coughing, sneezing or close contact.
Symptoms include high fever, conjunctivitis and skin rash.
Scientists estimate that more than 90 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated to prevent outbreaks.
In July, UNICEF said that some 25 million children worldwide had missed routine immunizations against common childhood illnesses, calling it a “red alert” for children’s health.
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