HEALTH Policy and Public Health experts have advised health and child care Minister, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga to act with speed and make measles vaccination mandatory in children from apostolic sects.
By Michael Gwarisa
This call comes in the midst of a sharp increase in new measles cases and deaths mainly in children between the ages 6 to 16 from apostolic religious sects, a development that has prompted government to activate the country’s Civil Protection Unit Act.
Speaking to HealthTimes, Health Law Policy Expert, Mr Tinashe Mundawarara said the country’s Public Health ACT gives the health minister the powers to declare mandatory vaccination for children and incapacitated children.
The first premise to acknowledge is that there is a health crisis affecting children and this crisis represents an existing and threatening harm to children in various settings. Central government has to stop this through an enabling policy response as provided for in Section 42 of the Public Health Act and act in the best interests of the Zimbabwean child.
“General Chiwenga has to respond because it is now a public health emergency that requires urgent and swift action to stem the advance of measles in Zimbabwean communities. He should uphold the constitution and act decisively now in accordance with Section 76 and Section 81 of the constitution of the republic of Zimbabwe,” said Mr Mundawara.
According to Section 42 of Public Health ACT, compulsory immunisation of children and incapacitated persons is permitted when there are compelling reasons of public health specifically regarding minors and legally incapacitated individuals. Under such circumstances, the Minister of Health shall by notice Gazette, declare the date on which compulsory immunisation shall take place.
Public Health Expert and Epidemiologist Dr Grant Murewanhema weighed in and said the number of measles cases and deaths that have occurred in the country could be higher than the reported cases.
“The real sad thing is that most of the measles cases and deaths are occurring among unvaccinated children within the Apostolic Sects. Common sense will tell you that the burden of the measles in the country is probably much higher than that which is being reported because it is just not possible for the case fatality rate of this disease to be close to 70 percent as we are seeing from the numbers.
“I think there is gross underreporting of cases. It is a right for the minister to invoke Section 42 of the Public Health Act so that we protect children from the Apostolic Sects. If we don’t invoke the section and there is a huge proportion of unvaccinated children and also judging by the rate at which at which the measles is spreading, we might actually lose more lives. It’s timely and necessary and has to be done now,” said Dr Murewanhema.
As at Tuesday, August 15 2022, the cumulative measles figures from across Zimbabwe had risen to 2 056 cases and 157 deaths. It has been noted that all the victims had not received vaccination for protection against measles. Cabinet has since directed the Ministry of Health and Child Care to engage Traditional and Faith leaders in the affected areas for their support on the vaccination programme.
Meanwhile, Public Health Expert and Academic, Dr Amos Marume said should the situation continue as is happening, there might be need to use the police to force people into getting their children vaccinated.
“I heard some time ago things like government coming up with a system to ensure that all children get vaccinated. Maybe as a country, we may need to go to the extent of using the police to try and force people to have children vaccinated became these diseases may keep coming back. You won’t be surprised that Polio might come back, small pox might come back and these other disease that people were working towards elimination if we don’t take vaccination seriously,” said Dr Marume.