Twenty-two die in Zimbabwe measles outbreak

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Harare_(dpa) _ Twenty-two people, mainly children under five years, have died of measles in Zimbabwe in the past three weeks, state media reported Tuesday.

The Herald daily, which is close to President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, said the 22 had missed out on being vaccinated when the health department undertook a nationwide mass immunization programme earlier in the year.

All 22 dead were from the Makoni area, about 200 kilometres east of Harare, where a further 90 people have also been confirmed infected by the highly contagious respiratory virus.

"This is an unwarranted loss of lives given the fact that measles is a preventable disease," Health and Child Welfare Minister Henry Madzorera was quoted as saying.

Measles, which is characterized by a high fever and skin rash, mainly affects young children.

In developed countries, most children are immunized against measles by the age of 18 months.

Madzorera blamed the outbreak, which has affected five districts, on parents not taking advantage of the World Health Organization-funded vaccination programme.

The WHO has also blamed parents.

Zimbabwe's health system is in the recovery stages after being brought to its knees during the latter, disastrous years of Mugabe's and Zanu-PF's monopolistic rule.

Over 4,000 people died in a cholera epidemic in the country last year.

In February, the 85-year-old leader was forced into a unity government with his arch-rival, former-opposition-leader-turned-prime-minister, Morgan Tsvangirai.

Basic education and health services have since been restored. dpa cb ms

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