Parents lose confidence in immunisation programmes

People are calling on government to prioritise the health needs of children under 16 and to ensure there are procedures in place to prevent more deaths from immunisation.

“Some of the nurses were rough to the extent that you wonder whether they were forced to come and administer the drugs to the children.” – Martha Musumhiri.
“Some of the nurses were rough to the extent that you wonder whether they were forced to come and administer the drugs to the children.” – Martha Musumhiri.

People who spoke to The Zimbabwean in Harare, Chitungwiza and Chihota in Mashonaland East expressed bitterness that government was failing to reach a conclusion on what exactly had led to the deaths of three children, who died after they were immunised with bilharzia drugs.

Many we spoke to said they no longer had confidence in government-initiated immunisation programmes.

Greg Banda from Mbare expressed fears that the health ministry over-depended on donated drugs.

“It compromises the quality of drugs,” said Banda, citing fears that the country was fast becoming the testing ground for drug trials.

“I am sure that there are other drugs that can prevent bilharzia. It is so unfortunate that we are a poor country and we rely on foreign interventions to solve our health crises,” he said.

Martha Musumhiri from Hopley in Harare blamed the health ministry for failing to provide better pay for health workers and said “overworked personnel” were giving medicines to children.

“They make mistakes because they are overworked and their salaries are low,” she said. “Some of the nurses were rough to the extent that you wonder whether they were forced to come and administer the drugs to the children.”

Several women from Ward 3, Dhayi area in Chihota said the health ministry should come up with urgent interventions to redress the effects of the bilharzia and intestinal worms mass drug administration on children. Several children in the area had developed side-effects after taking the drugs, including headaches, stomach cramps, body rashes, dizziness, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea.

The villagers said a lot of children in their community spent days without going to school after taking the drugs.

Chetweni Billie said before embarking on mass immunisation programmes, the health ministry should conduct extensive research into the effects of immunising sick children and those with chronic ailments.

“My seven year old daughter developed fever-related symptoms after taking the drugs,” said Billie. “She is a very active child but, after taking the drugs, she could not walk. She started crawling like a one-year-old.”

Billie said despite being told to bring food to school, some of the children were not adequately fed, as they came from poverty stricken homes.

“They were given two slices of bread and some juice, but I am suspecting that the drugs were too heavy for some of those pupils.”

In a bid aimed at reducing the prevalence of bilharzia to below ten per cent, government, through the health ministry, has embarked on an immunisation programme targeting more than 4.7m children. The health ministry received 5.5m tablets of albendazole and 11.5m praziquantel tablets.

The exercise follows last year’s disease monitoring and surveillance programme, which discovered there was a 62 per cent prevalence rate of bilharzia and intestinal worms in 52 out of the 63 districts.

Matilda Ngwerume from Ward 3 in Ngome area in Seke said it was important for government to raise more awareness about the importance of immunisation and what parents could do to protect their children.

“It becomes difficult if parents are afraid of taking their children for immunisation for fear of the side-effects and the cost of taking children to and from hospitals and clinics after immunisation,” she said. “Failure to give a conclusive report on what could have killed those three children who died days after taking the drugs is worrisome.”

Patricia Mandiveyi from Glen Norah in Harare said because Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in celebrating International Day of the Child, this indicated that the country should adhere to international standards for the protection of children.

Said Mandiveyi: “The challenge is to ensure that the rural populace is part of that priority and children in the rural areas have the same access to resources as those in the urban areas. Urban residents have an upper hand while the rural child is neglected most of the time.”

Post published in: Health

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