The sect does not allow its members to immunise their children or seek treatment for any illness in conventional health centres.
Local village head, Maurice Muringai said he was troubled by the deaths of children at the Marange Apostolic Church shrine, which houses scores of people, including the sick and pregnant mothers.
The shrine has no proper ablution facilities.
“My major worry about the make-shift hospital is the death of children,” said Muringai. “Last year we buried scores of children, I don’t have the exact figure but after forcing them to report every death they will come twice or thrice weekly to report the death of children. You can calculate how many would have died by the year-end.”
He said officials from the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) once visited the shrine and urged the leaders to divide their followers into smaller groups arguing that the existing facility could not accommodate the swelling number of people.
The church leaders took no heed.
“Personally, I have failed to deal with them and maybe only the government will be able to deal with them,” said Muringai. “The sad part of this is that they are protected by someone in authority.”
The make-shift “clinic”, surrounded by plastic shacks, is just a few metres away from the main road linking Bindura and Harare.
When The Standard news crew arrived at the shrine, expecting mothers were milling around while children of different ages were playing in the vicinity of the compound.
One youth from the area, Design Masengu, said his friend died of what is suspected to be a sexually transmitted infection at the clinic where he was being given “holy water” and prohibited from going to a proper health centre.
A member of the apostolic sect, who refused to identify himself, dismissed the allegations denying that it was a shrine but “homestead of someone” hence it was improper to ask further questions.
Deputy Minister of Health and Child Welfare, Douglas Mombeshora said his ministry was trying to engage leaders of apostolic church sects so that their members could seek treatment at conventional health centres.
“We have these programmes where we are actually trying to engage their leaders,” said Mombeshora. “I actually visited them and talked to their leaders for three hours and they allowed us to immunise children. It’s a process and the numbers are increasing. It is a complicated issue that needs a tactful approach.”
11 000 children die every year
A survey: Apostolic Religion, Health and Utilisation of Maternal and Child Health Services in Zimbabwe, carried out by Unicef last year lamented the low uptake of modern health services and poor immunisation coverage among religious objectors such as the Johanne Marange, Madhidha and conservative segments of Johanne Masowe.
“Religious objectors’ beliefs have had disastrous consequences for women and children, and often resulted in avoidable deaths among these groups,” reads the report.
According to the 2010 global systematic analysis of national causes of child mortality report, at least 100 children are dying every day.
The report says around 10 758 newborns die each year in Zimbabwe.