An outbreak of the measles virus, which was first reported in early April in the eastern Manicaland province of Zimbabwe, has since spread throughout the country.
According to Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa, at least 2,056 cases have been reported, nearly doubling within four days with a majority of the cases being in children who were not vaccinated.
More than 150 children have died in Zimbabwe as a result of contracting the measles virus.
The government has blamed the disease’s rapid spread on apostolic church sects that oppose vaccinations and, in some churches, forbid their followers from seeking medical treatments.
Information Minister Mutsvangwa said, “Zimbabwe’s Cabinet has used a disaster-response law to deal with the outbreak.”
The government says it is launching a mass vaccination campaign for children aged 6 months to 15 years old, and it is enlisting the help of traditional and religious leaders. The mass vaccination campaign is scheduled to ramp up in preparation for schools opening in September.
Even during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zimbabwe continued to vaccinate children against diseases such as measles, but the drive has been notably hampered by religious groups that oppose vaccination.
Some Christian sects in the country that oppose modern medicine and instruct their followers not to seek treatment for ailments claim to heal them with words and faith.
According to the health ministry statement issued last week, “Church gatherings that resumed after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted have led to the spread of measles to previously unaffected areas.”
Measles is one of the most contagious diseases in the world, spreading primarily in the air via airborne droplets from coughing, sneezing, or close contact. Coughing, fever, and skin rash are common symptoms. Unvaccinated children are at a high risk of developing severe measles or dying from complications.
In April, the World Health Organization warned of an increase in cases of Measles in vulnerable countries as a result of service disruption caused by COVID-19. In July, UNICEF reported that approximately 25 million children worldwide had not received routine immunizations against common childhood diseases, citing a “red alert” for child health.