A measles outbreak has killed 80 children in Zimbabwe since April, the health ministry said, blaming the outbreak on church sects.

In a statement seen by Reuters on Sunday, the ministry said the outbreak had now spread across the country, with a fatality rate of 6.9%.

Health Minister Jasper Chimedza said as of Thursday there had been 1,036 suspected and 125 confirmed cases since the outbreak, with the majority of infections in Manicaland in eastern Zimbabwe.

“The Ministry of Health and Child Welfare is informing the public that an ongoing outbreak of measles, which was first reported on April 10, has spread across the country following church gatherings,” Chimedza said in a statement.

“These gatherings, attended by people from different provinces of the country with unknown vaccination status, led to the spread of measles in previously unaffected areas.”

Manicaland, the province’s second most populous, had 356 cases and 45 deaths, Chimedza said.

Most of the reported cases are among children between the ages of six months and 15 years from religious sects who are not vaccinated against measles due to religious beliefs, he added.

Bishop Andbi Makuru, leader of the Johanna Masowe Apostolic sect, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In Zimbabwe, some apostolic church sects forbid their followers to receive vaccinations or any medical treatment. Churches attract millions of followers with their promises to cure disease and lift people out of poverty.

With low vaccination rates and in some cases no record keeping, the government decided to launch a mass vaccination campaign in areas where the outbreak was recorded.

The measles outbreak is expected to strain the ailing health sector, which is already suffering from drug shortages and periodic health worker strikes.

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