By Associated Press
HARARE: The death toll from a measles outbreak in Zimbabwe has risen to almost 700 children, the country’s health ministry has said.
Some are calling for the enactment of legislation to make vaccination mandatory in a country where anti-modern medicine religious sects hold sway on large swathes of the population of 15 million people.
The southern African country’s health ministry announced at the weekend that 698 children have died from measles since the outbreak started in April.
The ministry said 37 of the deaths occurred on a single day on Sept.1. The health ministry said it had recorded 6,291 cases by Sept. 4.
The latest figures are more than four-times the number of deaths announced about two weeks ago when the ministry said 157 children, most of whom were unvaccinated due to their family’s religious beliefs, had succumbed to the disease.
Dr. Johannes Marisa, the president of the Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe Association, told The Associated Press on Monday that the government should escalate an ongoing mass vaccination campaign and embark on awareness programs targeted especially at anti-vaccine religious groups.
“Because of the resistance, education may not be enough so the government should also consider using coercive measures to ensure that no one is allowed to refuse vaccination for their children,” said Marisa. He urged the government to “consider enacting legislation that makes vaccination against killer diseases such as measles mandatory.”
UNICEF on Monday said it “is deeply concerned” with the number of cases and deaths among children due to measles. The agency said it is assisting the government to combat the outbreak through immunization programs.