THE Zimbabwean government in September stopped posting figures of children dying of measles in order to avoid public panic as the numbers kept rising sharply amid indications that up to 750 deaths were recorded in a development that exposed the country’s disaster preparedness, a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross has revealed.
Titled Operation Update 1: Measles Outbreak, the report reveals that the country’s measles outbreak was widespread.
At the inception of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the government was also accused of under-reporting cases and deaths in order to avoid spooking the nation.
The measles outbreak hit Zimbabwe in April.
According to the Red Cross report released on 11 November, the outbreak raised alarm in government circles.
“The tracking and publication of measles data for the public by the Ministry of Health on Twitter was stopped in September to minimise public panic,” reads the report.
The dossier also reveals that between April and 2 October more than 750 children died from the disease.
“This outbreak raised alarm bells internationally, with organisations like UNICEF, Red Cross and the WHO expressing concern and activating an emergency response strategy to provide support and resources to the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ),” the Red Cross said.
“The first case was recorded in Manicaland province on the 10 April 2022 in Mutasa district and by 31 August, 639 children had succumbed to the virus accumulating to 750 deaths by early October. In response, the Government of Zimbabwe rolled out a nationwide emergency immunisation programme targeting 95% of all children from 6-59 months and in some instances up to 15 years in an attempt to attain herd immunity.”
The document added that nationally, there are reports that cumulatively around 85% of all children under the age of five were fully vaccinated against measles by 2 October 2022, while the government is also focusing on efforts to immunise the remaining eligible populations prioritising Manicaland province.
“However, vaccinations have been ongoing at all static facilities and outreach teams were visiting hard-to-reach areas and children in the 6-59 months category are being vaccinated irrespective of their vaccination status.
“At least 85% of the children have been vaccinated in Manicaland province and of the 7 413 children affected by measles, 5 600 have recovered, representing 76% recovery. Countrywide immunization will continue until all the areas are covered in as much as it continues until it reaches the national 95% vaccination target,” reads the report.
The World Health Organisation in April this year warned of an increase in measles cases in vulnerable countries as a result of a disruption of services due to Covid-19.
The health systems in many African countries continue to be overstretched by several disease outbreaks and other man-made disasters.