These deaths have occurred during the past month in Nyazura, Makoni District, east of Harare, and it is feared the figures could be higher and more could die as parents of this sect resist immunisation for their children.
The majority of the children affected are aged between 1-10 years.
Members of the Johanne Marange Apostolic Church, who dominate Nzvimbe area, are allegedly refusing to take treatment because they treat them with “holy water”.
But health authorities have moved in and are forcing some church members to receive treatment.
At least 29 patients were forcefully taken and detained at the satellite clinic set up at Nzvimbe Primary School during the past week.
Human rights campaigners have called the government to evoke the Public Health Act to ensure apostolic sect members allow sick people to seek medical treatment.
“Children’s rights are being violated,” said Trust Maanda, a human rights lawyer. “The government has a duty to protect children so it should make the parents submit to its programmes.” Maanda spoke amid reports that the death toll could be much higher as church members were fast -tracking burials of victims who die at home.
“Since my birth in 1929, I have not seen such a catastrophe,” said a villager, Muchaona Bumhira. “These people should be arrested for resisting treatment and putting the health of our children in danger.”
Bumhira added: “These apostolic elements are a danger to our community because they are the conduits through which this dangerous measles disease is spreading.”
“The body count is rising while we engage in these academic debates,” Gift Phiri, a Harare based journalist wrote on Face Book early in the week. “Another child is dying today and tomorrow because mapostori refuse to avert needless deaths because of their archaic religious beliefs. It’s like the 1994 slaughter in Rwanda, people hacking each other with machetes while technocrats and the United Nations debate what genocide is.”
While Phiri may have over emphasized the tragedy in Zimbabwe’s Makoni District, by equating it to the genocide in Rwanda, in which close to a million people were massacred in cold blood, his point remains valid and cries out for urgent attention by the relevant authorities.
Leaders of the Johanne Marange Apostolic Church are reclusive and feared by loyal followers who believe they wield supernatural powers and are very close to God.
Measles is a highly communicable disease characterized by fever, general malaise, sneezing, nasal congestion, brassy cough, conjunctivitis, and a maculopapular eruption over the entire body which health experts say is caused by a virus called rubeola.
Its symptoms include drowsiness, loss of appetite, gradual elevation of temperature for the first two days, body rash on the inner cheek, high fever, recurrence rash appears (causing a swollen, mottled appearance) and coughing.