By Clayton Shereni
ZIMBABWE has been battling a serious measles outbreak which has claimed hundreds of lives since September and apostolic sect gatherings have been regarded as hotspots for this disease.
Health authorities have faced a stern challenge from the Johanne Marange apostolic sect whose doctrine hinders church members from accessing medical assistance at hospitals and clinics.
These religious beliefs have, however, cost the lives of innocent children who are denied access to healthcare.
Main perpetrators have been revealed as men who give strict orders to their wives barring them from taking their children to medical facilities accusing them of going against the church’s doctrine.
Religious beliefs and church doctrines have a strong bearing on one’s personal decisions including those that affect their health.
In Zimbabwe, churches have spread various doctrines which have discouraged members from getting vaccinated.
When COVID-19 struck Zimbabwe in 2020, many church leaders took an anti-vaccination stance discouraging their members to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
This has been the case with measles as the Johanne Marange apostolic sect continues with its anti-vaccination stance despite many children dying from the disease.
Men who command a lot of power in the church and family setup have remained adamant about their religious beliefs, barring women from taking children for measles vaccination.
Lukias Munyorovi a staunch member of the Johanne Marange sect says he has never sought medical attention in his whole life and there is no need for him or his family to disobey church doctrine.
“I was born a believer and my whole life I haven’t sought any medical assistance. Truth be told, I see no need for me or my wife and children to go to the hospital because whether we go there or not, we always survive,” he says.
Members of the sect living in rural communities have been the most affected, but traditional leaders are taking a bold stance to mitigate what could be a bigger crisis.
Chief Chitanga from Mwenezi District in Masvingo says they are engaging the Apostolic churches despite facing resistance from some apostolic sects.
“The issue of measles is very painful, it is a preventable disease but we have to approach church leaders and plead with them to take children for vaccination. It now seems like us (traditional leaders) are being harsh with villagers but due to some church ideologies, it’s very hard to convince those who have an anti-vaccination stance,” says Chief Chitanga.
Chief Chitanga says he is aware that some of the members of these sects are willing to get their children vaccinated although they do not want to be seen doing so in public. As such he urges government to setup night clinics.
“Some of the Marange church believers are now taking their children for vaccination nicodemusly so we kindly request that those administering measles vaccination to administer it even during the night because some people don’t want to be seen going to clinics and hospitals since it flaunts their religious beliefs,” adds Chief Chitanga.
Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) spokesperson, Donald Mujiri reiterated that the MoHCC was committed to containing measles especially in marginalized communities and it has since engaged churches to promote vaccination against measles.
“The government has rolled out massive campaigns nationwide and reached out to those who didn’t believe in vaccination including churches and community leaders. We have also seen that people were coming out even during the night giving services and this has been happening in all the provinces,” said Mujiri.
However, outreach programs by the healthcare ministry have been reportedly received with mixed feelings amongst the apostolic sect with some maintaining their anti-vaccination stance.
Council of Churches in Africa (CCA) founder and Bishop, Dr Rocky Moyo says they are now offering incentives to churches which excel in measles vaccination.
“We are putting several strategies in place to stop the further spread of measles, we engage in sensitization programs with our member churches. As CCA we also offer incentives to churches that excel in measles vaccination and all health issues so we are trying to assist them,” says Bishop Moyo.