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Bilharzia drug kills three children
November 06, 2013

Three children have reportedly died in Harare and Redcliff after taking the bilharzia drug, but government was yesterday adamant that it would not stop the mass drug immunisation programme.

Secretary for Health and Child Care Dr Gerald Gwinji said his ministry had engaged a pathologist to investigate the deaths, adding that the immunisation exercise had in fact been extended to Friday due to overwhelming response.

“We are not going to abandon the programme. We are using the medicine that has been used for a long time,” Gwinji said.

“We have reports that there are three children who died, but we are investigating first. We do not arbitrarily abandon the programme because the medicine has benefits to children and surveys were made that showed massive bilharzia worms.”

Although no comment could not be obtained from Health and Child Care minister David Parirenyatwa yesterday, Gwinji said:

“We are investigating the cause of the death of these three children. The results will be shared with citizens. These are just challenges in any programme, but we are not supposed to ignore them. Some parents also do not divulge that their children have other illnesses and it affects them.”

The three children from Budiriro, Kambuzuma and Redcliff - aged between five and eight - reportedly started vomiting and developed diarrhea the same day that they had taken the medication, raising fears that the drug could have caused their death.

Parents in some parts of the country have reportedly withdrawn their children from the immunisation exercise which is targeting about 4,6 million children countrywide.

“I can’t afford to take a risk and, therefore, I have withdrawn that (indemnity) letter that I signed and stopped my child from being immunised,” a parent from Norton who refused to be identified said.

A non-governmental organisation, Youth Development Trust, yesterday expressed outrage over the deaths and urged the Health and Child Care ministry to get to the bottom of the matter.

“The Youth in Development Trust notes with concern the recent death of the three innocent lives after the bilharzia vaccination programme that was conducted in schools last week and this week by the Ministry of Health and Child Care,” the organisation in a statement said.

“We are concerned that this has happened on the backdrop of a similar case in which another child died last year after another vaccination exercise by the same ministry. As a youth advocacy group, we are demanding an explanation from the ministry as this erodes the trust that we may have of the health delivery system in the country.”

Youth in Development Trust said what was even more worrying was that the deaths come hard on the heels of media reports of toxic ARVs that were still being administered by Government to HIV positive people.

“If such reports are true, then there is serious need to investigate such issues and set up a commission of inquiry to establish and correct such incidences.”

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