Writes Key Correspondent, Wallace Mawire.
Resistance by members of some religious and cultural groups in Zimbabwe to get their children immunized has caused a lot of preventable deaths. As a result, the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare is reviewing the Public Health Act with a view to making the vaccination of children compulsory.
Dr Portia Manangazira, Head of Epidemiology and Disease Control in the health ministry said the review of the act is a response to problems encountered by the ministry in trying to reach out to children in some areas during outbreaks of measles and during the 2008 cholera outbreak. The most prominent of those against medical intervention are some apostolic faith sects.
“We as a Ministry started the discussions as to what extent current legal provisions adequately cover us in terms of delivering effective public health interventions such as vaccination of children against child killer diseases and also assist in the realization of the children’s health and rights.”
She added that to reach the ministry’s goals there has to be participation by everybody so that good health and quality of life is achieved by all. Also, the government is committed to the Abuja Declaration and Call to Action and the health related Millennium Development Goals.
Dr. Manangazira revealed that when it comes to the control of outbreaks of infectious diseases such as measles and other child killer diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, and polio, which are all vaccine preventable, the ministry’s public health act takes precedence over all acts and rights issues and is used to reach all potentially affected and cause those sick with infectious diseases to be treated.Other diseases covered by the act include TB and HIV and AIDS.
The Child Protection and Adoption Act is also used in cases where the parent or guardian of a child refuses to act in the best interest of the child. This usually applies when there is evidence of abuse of any nature or refusal to take a child for treatment or other health services including vaccination against diseases, she noted.
Manangazira said that some of the shortcomings of the public health act are lack of cover on issues to do with religion and culture as regards health issues. Dr. Peter Salama, UNICEF Zimbabwe Representative, welcomes the review of the current legal framework. He says the current public health act was formulated more than 50 years ago and needs updating, so that it fully supports the government’s public health goals.
Pishai Muchauraya, Movement for Democratic Change Member of Parliament for Makoni South in Manicaland said the intended review of the health act will compel parents or guardians who have hitherto resisted having their children immunized to do so.
Cases of resistance from immunization have been more prevalent in Manicaland province from where the Johanne Marange apostolic sect originates. The legislator has thus been working in his constituency to educate parents and guardians on the importance of getting their children immunized.
“Parents in Gandanzara are now more aware of the importance of immunization and they are beginning to get their children immunized. However there is still some resistance in Marange and Buhera so we have to intensify the education campaign,” Muchauraya said.
Tara Miller, Childline Zimbabwe Director, said that her organization supports the review of the health act. Childline is a telephone helpline and drop in centre for children. She said that children have called Childline enquiring about the immunization process, its effects and how to access healthcare.
“Similarly we have received calls from concerned members of the community about children prevented from accessing adequate healthcare,” Miller added.
Speaking on condition of anonymity a member of the Johanne Marange Apostolic Faith said his sect’s reluctance to use science in treating disease is due to its belief in divine intervention when someone falls sick. But as a result of the education campaigns the sect’s members have been convinced to make use of medical facilities.
It is also understood that some citizens are also shying away from receiving testing and counselling services for HIV and AIDS due to their religious beliefs.