By Francis Kagolo
Health experts have asked Parliament to expedite passing of the law to criminalise non-response to immunisation following reports of a looming Polio outbreak in the country.
The experts from central and southern Africa also asked Uganda to work with other states in the region to require polio vaccination for travelers in order to stop the spread of the disease across borders.
The suggestion was made at the 23rd joint consultative committee for the Director Generals from the East, Central and Southern Africa Health Community (ECSA- HC).
Director General of health services Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng represented Uganda in the three-day meeting taking place in Arusha, Tanzania.
The director generals want governments to set up vaccination sites at airports and other points of transit for unvaccinated travellers.
The proposals come amid reports of polio outbreaks in Kenya and Somalia with fears the killer disease could spread to Uganda and other neighbouring countries.
“To date, there are 100 Polio cases in Somalia and 10 in Kenya putting the lives of Ugandan children at risk due to the heavy mobility along the borders,” the health ministry said in a statement.
The director generals urged member states to recognise the importance of routine immunisation programmes to ensure that all children get the life-saving vaccines.
The private member’s Bill before Parliament makes immunisation compulsory for children and women of reproductive age against preventable diseases.
According to the Bill, parents who fail to take their children for immunisation face a jail term of up to six months or a fine of sh220,000.
The delegates at the Arusha meeting supported the prosecution of parents and other communities that are resistant to immunisation, arguing that it is a child’s right to be protected against immunisable diseases.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) ranks immunisation highly as a key child survival strategy that has over the years protected children from the death.
“It is important that all parties on the ground, including local leaders and communities work together in vaccinating their children and protecting them from disabling diseases,” said Dr. Samwel Okirio from the WHO Africa office.
Uganda suffered a setback in immunisation coverage in 2006 when the Global Alliance for Vaccines (GAVI) suspended cash support to the country following the misappropriation of US$4.3m (about sh7.6b).
Immunisation coverage dropped from 83% in 2008 to 76% in 2009/10, according to health ministry statistics.
As the downward trend continued, the national immunisation coverage reached 52% in 2011, turning Uganda into the same category of countries like Somalia which have the lowest number of fully immunized children in the world.
It is considered one of the most deadly vaccine-preventable diseases, accounting for an estimated 777,000 childhood deaths per year worldwide, with more than half of these occurring in Africa.
GAVI this year reinstated its cash support for immunisation with US$20m (about sh51b).
The Government Currently provides free vaccines in both public and private health facilities in addition to routine mass immunization programmes.
Public warned of looming Polio outbreak