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Zimbabwe, 1 March 2017: Reaching out to Apostolic sect in Buhera District

By Godfrey Mutizwa

“I am going to use holy water at home. I don’t want an injection (for my child).”

With those words, Mrs. Zengeya* stormed off with her child who had a severe rash, leaving visiting UNICEF official and health worker, Collen Pikinini, and Nutrition Assistant, Hellen Mhizha, open mouthed.

Mrs. Zengeya and dozens of other women had gathered under a Baobab tree, a few kilometres south of Murambinda, capital of the Buhera district, for a novel screening for malnutrition in children under five years.

Conducted far away from clinics or other focal points, the unusual locations for the screenings were designed to accommodate Vapostori faith sect adherents like Mrs. Zengeya, whose church teachings forbid them from accepting modern health services.

Murambinda Community Health Nurse Pikinini says officials are resorting to unorthodox ideas to help Vapostori women who want their children to be treated but face opposition from conservative husbands who demand they follow the strict church line on health matters.

The Apostolic Church, Zimbabwe’s largest religious denomination with 32 per cent followers according to the 2010 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health survey, generally forbids members from using modern medicine and health facilities, exhorting members to prayer to cure all ailments.

A 2011 study by researcher Brian Maguranyanga found the Johanne Marange, Johanne Masowe and Madhidha groups demand strict observance of church beliefs and practices with sanctions for non-conformity. Buhera borders the church’s headquarters in Marange, Manicaland province.

“It’s a big problem with the Vapostori,’’ Pikinini said in an interview. “We also continue to talk to the heads of the denominations and hope they will heed the overall message.”

At the gathering other women spoke out about the opposition and pressure they face from their husbands. “Our men don’t allow us (to get treatment),” shouted one woman who was breastfeeding her baby. “Our husbands are extremely difficult.” The health workers advised her and others in similar situations to visit clinics or contact health workers privately.

With time running out – some of the women were cattle herders while others were scared of being found away from home – there was still time for a quick education recap on the importance of breast milk, introducing babies to solid meals and breast milk feeding for HIV positive mothers. The mothers were also told the importance of balanced diets for children, comprising food from animal sources (including fish and eggs), fruits, seeds and legumes and vegetables and starches (including the traditional sadza – a thick porridge made from maize meal). Then it was time to screen the babies, a process that includes measuring weight (need help with that description).

Aside from holding the gatherings at random locations, health workers here also allow mothers from particularly strict homes to forgo the need to carry health cards, maintaining records only with the village health workers.

“We do want the kids to be immunized. But, at the same time, we don’t want to stoke conflict in the homes,” Pikinini said. “And so we accommodate these mothers as much as possible.”


* Real names not used.



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