Paidamoyo Chipunza Senior Writer
A 12-year-old child whose parents are members of an apostolic sect in Dzamara Village, Chief Charehwa area in Mutoko District recently succumbed to malaria.
The child was at his parents’ home and had failed to respond to prayers and concoctions given at a shrine, known as pachitsidzo.
His three siblings were seriously ill, with one of them convulsing — a sign that his condition was deteriorating due to malaria when The Herald visited the family recently.
Because of religious beliefs, the parents were reluctant to take the children for treatment at the nearest clinic.
They also pinned their hopes on prayers and concoctions made from lemon and honey, among other things.
Their failure to take their children for treatment at a health facility prompted the police to invoke the Public Health Act.
Only then did the repeated efforts of health workers from Katsukunya Clinic and the local headman yield positive results.
The siblings were taken to Mutoko District Hospital for treatment and their condition could not be ascertained by the time of going to print. The Mutoko family presents a typical example of what health workers in many malaria endemic areas- with portions of members of certain sects of Vapostori — are grappling with as they work towards combating the disease.
So far, malaria has claimed over 200 lives and while more than 14 000 people were treated and discharged nationally.
This struggle was corroborated by health workers from Hoyuyu 1 Clinic in the same district who said two children belonging to one of the apostolic sects succumbed to malaria within a week.
Village health workers at Hoyuyu 1 Clinic claimed that during the same week, five “secret” burials were conducted in the neighbouring ward.
Mutoko acting district medical officer Dr Prince Mangwiro confirmed that members of apostolic sects who did not seek health services were hard hit by malaria.
He said some of the deaths were not reported as the burials were concealed.
“Most of the times, we are given information by members of the community as they go to pay their condolences to the bereaved families. Without that, victims are buried without our knowledge,” said Dr Mangwiro.
He said of the nine deaths reported in his district in April alone, the majority were of members of the apostolic sects.
Dr Mangwiro said while most of these religious objectors agreed to have their homes sprayed with chemicals, they refused to seek treatment .
Union for the Development of Apostolic Churches and Zionists in Africa (UDACIZA) secretary-general Reverend Edson Tsvakai urged health workers to address such outbreaks among members of apostolic sects with caution
He said usually, they recommend health officials to approach leadership of the concerned sects so that a directive is then issued to the ordinary membership.
“If people go directly to individuals they are likely to face resistance, but if it comes from their leadership, they are likely to cooperate,” said Rev Tsvakai.
He said this approach was once used during a cholera outbreak, which affected members of the apostolic sects most in Murehwa District.
Some members, he said, would hide in mountains but when a directive was given by their leaders, there would be compliance.
Social and behaviour change communication officer in the Ministry of Health and Child Care national malaria control programme, Mrs Fortunate Manjoro said people should seek treatment early when they develop malaria symptoms.
The symptoms, she said, include fever, headache and general body weakness among others.
Mrs Manjoro said untreated malaria progresses to collapse of vital body organs and subsequent death.
“Malaria needs treatment. It does not subside on its own. In fact, untreated malaria leads to failure of vital body organs such as brain, liver, kidney and ultimately death, so people must seek treatment as soon as they start experiencing symptoms,” she said.
Mrs Manjoro added that while it was difficult to quantify the number of religious objectors nationally who were succumbing to malaria , the major challenge was with them becoming a source of infection in the same community.
“Malaria is spread by mosquitoes, which also get the malaria parasite from a sick person. This mosquito then carries the parasite to a healthy person,” she said.
Of the nine malaria endemic districts in Mashonaland East province, Mutoko has the highest number of deaths. The number of confirmed cases recorded are second from Mudzi district.
During the malaria peak period, which starts from March to April, most districts experienced exponential numbers of deaths and cases compared to the same period in the last two years.
Environmental health technicians interviewed from Mutoko, Mudzi and Uzumba, Maramba Pfungwe districts concurred that malaria prevention measures such as indoor residual spraying was done well on time in preparation for the 2020 malaria season.
They said while they have since rolled out different initiatives, which include ascertaining effectiveness of the chemicals used in spraying and establishing if the mosquitoes have become resistant to the chemicals, dual protection could be more effective in reversing the current upward trend.
Dual protection includes indoor residual spraying coupled with use of treated mosquito nets.
Mosquito nets were last distributed in 2013.
Mudzi environmental health technician Mr Mickey Gwenhe said dual protection was more important particularly this year because of the weather patterns characterised by sporadic rainfall which led to multiple stagnant water bodies, a conducive environment for mosquito breeding.
“This year’s whether pattern could have also contributed to increased mosquito density and the need for other interventions such as laviciding becomes paramount,” said Mr Gwenhe.