Health officials in Malawi are seeking urgent intervention of the government following last month's death of a couple who refused medical treatment on religious grounds.
The intriguing development at Balaka, 120 km north of here, has alarmed medical personnel who fear that more people could die unless they are treated for their ailment.
A man and his wife died of suspected cholera after they declined medical attention. The two were followers of the Zion Church, a fanatical Christian sect.
Officials said after receiving reports that there was a woman who had developed cholera-like symptoms, they rushed there, but her husband and members of the sect barred them from treating her or taking her to hospital.
According to the official Malawi News Agency MANA, the couple, a man and his wife, both died of suspected cholera after they declined medical attention.
The two were followers of the Zion Church, a fanatical Christian sect. Officials said after receiving reports that there was a woman who had developed cholera-like symptoms, they rushed there, but her husband and members of the Zion church barred them from treating her or taking her to hospital.
When the woman died, the sect members were warned and advised that due to the nature of the disease, the body should be disposed of the same day, and that anyone who came into close contact with the body would have to be disinfected.
They again refused, declaring that no one would escape death. They buried the woman on the same day but only after health officials sought the intervention of the village headman.
However, the members of Zion would not allow themselves to be disinfected, let alone be persuaded to use gloves when handling the dead woman. While the dead woman was being buried, her husband suddenly started purging and vomiting.
The health officials tried to reason with the elders of the sect that they get medical attention urgently. But they refused. The man himself indicated that he needed medical help, but the elders threatened him with excommunication. He therefore changed his mind.
He died the next day but the elders still refused to bury him. Instead, they demanded that the village headman take his body to his home, some 30 km away. The saddening development came in the wake of Malawi's worst floods in living memory which recently rendered over 300,000 people homeless, leaving a trail of killer diseases such as cholera, malaria and other water borne diseases.
Most of the people who were exposed to water borne disease sanitary conditions were poor and most of them relied on stagnant water for drinking. At least 20 people died from cholera and twice that number died from the ravages of the floods such as drowning.
Many international humanitarian organisations came to the rescue. The United Nations Children's Fund UNICEF donated an assortment of drugs in several parts of 14 of the country's 27 districts most affected by the floods.
The Medicins Sans Frontiers organisation has also been working with Malawi's Disaster Preparedness, Relief and Rehabilitation commission in providing relief to the flood stricken people including drugs to treat the sick, most of them children and women.