Measles continues to spread in Zimbabwe

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Measles continues to spread in Zimbabwe despite intensified efforts by the government and its partners to contain the outbreak, which has affected more than 1,200 people since October, The Herald reported Feb. 10.

According to the latest weekly epidemiological bulletin produced by the Cholera Command and Control Centre (C4), between Jan. 25 and 31, 611 blood specimens had been received by the polio-measles laboratory; 221 of them were confirmed to be measles.

These figures are an increase from the previous week's 459 blood specimens and 176 positive measles cases.

Latest information indicates that 72 percent of positive measles cases where above the routine immunization ages of 9 to 12 months, and the majority of the positive cases were in children ages 5 to 14 years.

Seventeen percent of all positive cases were in children ages 5 to 14; 18 percent were in those ages 1 to 5 years old; and 11 percent were in infants 9 to 12 months old.

The district measles attack rates for the week ranged between 357 per 100,000 compared to 160 per 100,000 people the previous week.

The C4 is a national body formed at the height of the cholera outbreak last year to respond to emergencies and is led by officials from the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization.

According to the bulletin, the majority of the measles attacks were in people who had never been immunized.

Since October 2009, 28 of Zimbabwe's 62 districts had at least one confirmed measles case.

In response to the outbreak, the government said it might invoke provisions of the Public Health Act that empower the Minister of Health and Child Welfare to enforce immunizations. This follows refusal by some people to take their children for immunization.

However, Health Secretary Dr. Gerald Gwinji said the act needs amendment before the minister could invoke the necessary provisions.

"The act needs amendment because it is not clear when a child is said to be of public health threat.

"It is vague whether the ministry can actually drag someone from his home saying he is a threat to the public when he is in his house or the provision applies only when a child is at school," Gwinji said.

Worldwide, vaccination has led to the elimination of measles in the WHO region of America while global measles mortality has decreased by 74 percent from 750,000 in 2000 to 197,000 deaths in 2007.