BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA
A team of health officials and experts stood outside a shrine as they devised ways of engaging the apostolic sect leader in Murewa to allow them to conduct investigations following a suspected cholera outbreak that had claimed three congregants.
Their mission was futile as the sect leader frankly told them that he would only allow them inside after a directive from the Holy Spirit.
After exhausting all the antics to gain entry, the team left only to return the following day with a police escort and other stakeholders to try and re-negotiate, albeit with a little “force”, hence the police presence.
Some religious beliefs have seen groups of people in the country, especially from the many apostolic “white garment” sects, succumbing to medieval diseases simply because they do not believe in medical science.
According to government, as of January 24, eight people have died out of the 35 cholera cases recorded in Nyamutumbu area of Murewa because they have not sought medical attention at conventional health institutions.
Mashonaland East provincial epidemiology and disease control officer, Paul Matsvimbo, recently confirmed the deaths of apostolic sect members.
“A cholera outbreak broke out at an apostolic shrine in Murewa. About eight deaths were recorded including the apostolic sect leader. Various stakeholders like Higher Life Foundation and the Department of Civil Protection team had to intervene to allow some of the members to be treated at Murewa District Hospital,” Matsvimbo said.
There was drama at Marondera provincial Hospital last month after Johane Marange apostolic sect members besieged the medical institution and seized their member, who had been admitted at the institution following a road traffic accident that claimed 13 lives in Macheke.
The man, who was visibly in pain and with a swollen face, was the driver of the commuter omnibus ferrying some apostolic sect members from Mutare to Karimbika in Maramba when they were involved in a head-on collision with another vehicle.
Five people from the other car, a Honda Fit, died, while the other six were worshippers in a Nissan Caravan.
The driver, who was writhing in pain, had to be taken to his home area in Murambinda by some relatives and church members who claimed their church doctrine did not allow their members to seek medical attention, but to rely on prayers for healing.
“We are not allowed to be in hospitals, we have powerful men of cloths at our church back in Murambinda who can heal our relative. The hospitals are demon infested,” said a sect member, who was among the congregants who whisked away the driver.
The hospital staff had to discharge the injured driver, who was part of the 16 injured people admitted at the hospital.
In a snap survey in Mutasa, Manicaland province, NewsDay established that pregnant mothers from the apostolic sect were still shunning medical centres with some yet to experience antenatal sessions.
However, according to medical personnel, some pregnant women nicodemously visit the clinic without their husbands’ consent.
“A number of expecting mothers are still shunning this clinic due to religious beliefs, especially those from the apostolic sects. This has resulted in high maternal deaths because some develop complications during birth. However, we have some expecting mothers who have been coming for antenatal sessions via the backdoor. Some of them have lost babies and now appreciate clinic visits.
“These women come without the consent of their husbands and we keep their records secret,” said one nurse.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) maternal mortality rate for Zimbabwe has declined from 960 deaths per 100 000 live births in 2010 to 614 deaths per 100 000 live births in 2014. Among other reasons, WHO noted that the maternal mortality rate is still high in the country due to religious and traditional objectors to modern medicine, for instance refusal to seek care at the health facilities, refusal of blood transfusion, refusal of modern medicines or surgical procedures, and use of traditional uterine contracting medicines to quicken labour.
Outgoing Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe (ACCZ) national chairperson of the Child Care Unit, Busani Sibanda, said his organisation has done a lot of awareness campaigns urging members to accept modern medical systems.
“The deaths (due to religious beliefs) are very unfortunate and unnecessary in this era. We have been going to all the 10 provinces, to our affiliate churches urging the leaders and congregants to accept medical assistance. I can say we had positive responses. However, we still have some pockets of die-hard sect leaders who will not give you the chance to even explain the goodness of modern medical facilities. A good example is the Madzibaba Ishmael incident that occurred in Budiriro,” he said.
A few years ago, ACCZ leaders, police officers and journalists were injured after Madzibaba Ishmael (Ishmael Chokurongera) and his congregants turned violent when the authorities sought to ban the sect due to a number of reasons among them refusing expecting mothers to seek medication. The sect did not allow its members to set foot in a medical institution. A number of people are still dying from curable diseases as a result of both traditional and religious beliefs.