After nearly a country-wide measles epidemic left more than 500 people dead, International Medical Corps joined forces with other global donors and organizations to help support Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Welfare (MOHCW) in launching a nationwide immunization campaign and survey of affected areas. The initiative was a response to the recurring measles outbreak that began in September 2009 and quickly spread to 59 of the country’s 62 districts.
“Nearly 10 percent of all infections were fatal,” says Dr. Marco Cernuschi, public health coordinator for International Medical Corps in Zimbabwe. “This is a figure that far exceeds the emergency threshold for a preventable disease like measles and exemplifies the tremendous public health needs in Zimbabwe.”
The immunization campaign covered between 83 and 100 percent of children across all provinces. However, reports of sporadic outbreaks still exist, particularly in areas where communities resist modern medical treatment. While MOHCW continues to investigate the causes of the continuous outbreaks, International Medical Corps conducted a survey in Mbire, one of the five districts that suffered an outbreak just last month.
In its assessment, International Medical Corps found major hurdles to ongoing vaccination campaigns. Nearly all of the clinics surveyed in Mbire, for instance, had the full complement of vaccines needed to immunize against measles. However, International Medical Corps found all health facilities to be dependent on gas-operated refrigerators to maintain the cold chain for the vaccines, something many clinics could not afford.
“Gas is an ongoing challenge for many of these facilities and, without it, there cannot be cold chain,” says Cernuschi. “For one, there is no reliable vehicle in Mbire district to replenish gas and then, even if there was, it would have to travel at least 200 km to reach the closest fueling station.”
Following the survey, International Medical Corps committed to repair and supply fuel in two vehicles in Mbire and Mt. Darwin, another of the affected districts. “Having functional vehicles will help Ministry staff move throughout the area to monitor the outbreak,” says Cernuschi.
With the support of the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO), International Medical Corps will also produce health education materials on measles for the MOHCW for distribution in the affected areas, and is committed to responding to further outbreaks.
International Medical Corps is also assisting in the responses to measles outbreaks that occurred this past month in the districts of Mazowe, Mt. Darwin, Rushinga, and Centenary.