Mothers vaccinate children ‘at night and in secret’ as measles spreads in anti-vax sect in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s government has not released new figures on the toll from the outbreak for a fortnight. But the speed of the spread and the unusually high proportion of those infected who are dying has worried international health officials. Officials reported that 37 children died on September 1 alone.

‘It’s important to just sneak out’

Fear of the outbreak has been enough for mothers to visit clinics in secret, sometimes under the cover of night, without their husbands knowing.

“We encourage women to get their children vaccinated, maybe at night,” said Debra Mpofu, a member of the Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust which encourages women to go against church rules to protect their children.

“It’s really necessary for the women to protect their children so it’s important for them to just sneak out.”

The risks of getting caught can be significant. Some mothers who have been found out by church leaders have been shamed and forbidden from taking part in church activities. Women are told that if they get their children vaccinated, they become unholy.

Measles is one of the world’s most infectious diseases, and the virus causes fever, coughing and a tell-tale rash. Other complications can include blindness, brain swelling, severe diarrhoea and dehydration, ear infections, or severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia. Complications can be fatal.

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