Zimbabwe Cracks Down on Unsanctioned Church Gatherings Amid Outbreak

Public Health, Religious Freedom Clash as Easter Approaches

by Oluwatosin Alabi

Zimbabwean authorities are imposing stricter measures to curb the spread of a worsening cholera outbreak, with religious gatherings coming under scrutiny. The government banned church services during Easter weekend at venues lacking proper sanitation facilities.

Cholera Cases Surge, Raising Concerns

The Ministry of Health reported a significant rise in suspected cholera cases, reaching 29,144 by March 25, 2024. This sharp increase comes just weeks after previous reports documented 27,182 suspected cases. The outbreak has resulted in fatalities, prompting government intervention.

Presenting the post-cabinet briefing, Information Minister Jenfan Muswere highlighted concerns about some church denominations, particularly Apostolic sects, continuing meetings in locations without proper sanitation. President Emmerson Mnangagwa directed the installation of solar-powered water facilities and boreholes at specific religious sites, including the Karuyana Shrine.

“Cabinet noted with concern that some churches continue to gather in places without safe water or sanitation facilities. His Excellency the President, Cde. Dr. Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, has since directed that solarized water facilities and boreholes should be installed to ensure the provision of safe water and sanitation at Karuyana Shrine among other sites,” said Muswere.

Increased Monitoring and Collaborative Efforts

The government is intensifying its response to the outbreak. The Ministry of Health will ramp up monitoring and supervision of all gatherings during the Easter holiday weekend to minimize the spread of cholera. Minister Muswere emphasized a new directive: church gatherings are prohibited until leaders install proper sanitation facilities, including solar-powered boreholes.

The Health Ministry is actively training healthcare personnel in affected provinces. He noted that the Health Ministry continues to conduct integrated training in case management, surveillance, infection prevention and control, and social mobilisation for Midlands, Masvingo, Mashonaland Central, and Mashonaland West provinces to augment staff already trained.

“Known hotspots are being targeted with community awareness and the deployment of oral rehydration points and establishment of cholera treatment camps.”

Additionally, collaboration with the Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust is underway to train religious leaders in Manicaland and Masvingo on coordinated responses to the cholera and polio outbreaks. Community awareness campaigns, deployment of oral rehydration points, and establishment of cholera treatment camps are also part of the government’s strategy.

Looking Forward: Balancing Public Health and Religious Freedom

The government’s intervention presents a complex challenge, balancing public health concerns with religious freedom. While the focus on proper sanitation is crucial to curb the outbreak, the restrictions on gatherings might raise concerns among some religious communities. Open communication and collaboration between authorities and religious leaders will be essential in navigating this situation effectively.

Source: New Zimbabwe

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