Zimbabwe

WHO announces Zim measles outbreak

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by Sebastian Nyamhangambiri

HARARE - The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday announced an outbreak of measles in parts of Zimbabwe, a reminder of the fragile health and humanitarian situation in the southern African country that is striving to emerge from years of economic recession and political turmoil.

"We now have an outbreak of measles in Zimbabwe which has affected more than 340 cases so far and as WHO this is not acceptable and we are frustrated, as this is mainly because of people who have denied their children vaccination," WHO head in Zimbabwe Custodia Mandlhate told journalists in Harare.

She said the affected areas included the districts of Bubi, Murambinda, Makoni, Chipinge, Chirumanzu, Zvishavane and Marondera.

The WHO official said the situation in Makoni in the east of the country was "worrisome", adding that her team was going to the areas with the intention of vaccinating children under five years to slow down the spread of the disease.

Most of the cases were among members of religious groups that shunned conventional medical treatment, while the heavy rains currently falling over the southern African country were also hampering efforts to distribute drugs and other medicines needed to curb measles.

The disclosure of the latest disease outbreak in Zimbabwe came as the WHO wrapped up a conference on immunisation in Harare which drew vaccination experts and health ministers from the region.

Opening the conference on Monday Zimbabwe's Health Minister Henry Madzorera said the country's health delivery system was still strained and in need of strengthening to be able to adequately deal with disease outbreaks after a devastating cholera epidemic that killed more than 4 000 people between August 2008 and July 2009.

The cholera epidemic - that the WHO labelled the worst in Africa in more than 15 years - was only brought under control after international aid agencies moved in with medicines and health support staff to treat the disease.

Since October, cholera has re-emerged and there has been about 100 cases of infections and at least five lives claimed.

Zimbabwe's power-sharing government between President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has promised to rebuild the economy and restore basic services such as water supplies, health and education that had virtually collapsed after years of neglect and under-funding.

But the administration has found it hard to undertake any meaningful reconstruction work after failing to get financial support from rich Western nations that insist they want to see more political reforms before they can loosen the purse strings.