Zimbabwe’s government says religious beliefs, topography and school closures are hampering efforts to contain a measles outbreak that has claimed at least 20 lives and infected hundreds more in the east of the country. As the World Health Organization says, the country needs to step up its surveillance system and vaccinate all children.
Dr Cephas Fonte, the district doctor in Mutasa where the measles outbreak was discovered last month, says more than 100 children are being treated for the infectious viral disease which causes fever and a red rash. Fonte says logistical factors impacted response time.
“Mutasa is a mountainous region, so some areas are difficult to access. We have some of our friends who are religious objectors, so it has been difficult to reach them, although they are responding slowly now. I think by the end of next week we would have achieved something,” he said.
He also says school closures have been a challenge, but with schools reopening now…
“We are now reaching these children while they are in one place, which is getting faster for us,” he said.
Dr Alex Gasasira heads the country office of the World Health Organization in Zimbabwe. He says the UN body is working with the government to ensure the disease is contained through vaccination.
“The vaccine is the best prevention. We are also strengthening surveillance, ensuring parents and community members are informed and report any child with symptoms suggestive of measles. We also make sure that the possibilities of vaccination are improved. We should do this across the country and not just in affected communities, because we know that measles is very, very transmissible; it spreads very, very fast,” he said.
Tariro Mhando, a public health officer from the University of Zimbabwe, has been deployed to investigate the reasons for an outbreak of measles, a disease which was last recorded in the country more than 10 years ago. year.
“What we have found is that most of the cases, the deaths that have been recorded are unvaccinated and we also have most of the unvaccinated cases. And only the few who have [been vaccinated] have mild symptoms,” she said.
The government says it hopes to carry out measles vaccinations across Zimbabwe in the coming weeks to contain the disease.