Pakistan eyes jailing parents for failing to vaccinate children
Experts warn against the coercive measures that have been proposed by a local government in Pakistan, saying they would push back on advances made by health workers.
Local authorities in Pakistan are proposing that parents who do not vaccinate their children against Polio be put in prison, spurring fears among world health officials.
Earlier in August, the government of Sindh, a Pakistani province, proposed a bill that would see parents imprisoned for up to one month if they fail to immunize their children against polio or eight other common diseases.
The World Health Organization's polio director in the Eastern Mediterranean, Dr. Hamid Jafari warned that the law could have adverse effects.
"Coercion is counterproductive," stressed Dr. Jafari.
Experts say such a strategy would undermine the public's trust in the vaccination campaign, especially in Pakistan where conspiracies on polio vaccines are on the rise.
Jafari said workers have been gaining ground on increasing immunization rates in areas where vaccine hesitancy has been a widespread concern. Health workers have found that bringing in influential and well-respected figures to talk to people helped them convince larger sections of the communities to get vaccinated.
"My own sense is that Pakistan wants to have this legislation in their back pocket in case they need it. I would be surprised if there’s a willingness to actually enforce these coercive measures," Jafari stressed.
Polio continues to ail Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan as they still grapple with the challenge of eradicating the disease through vaccination.
Polio primarily affects children under the age of 5 and typically spreads through contaminated water sources. Since the inception of the global effort to eliminate polio in 1988, the WHO and its partners have administered billions of vaccine doses. This initiative comes at a great annual cost of nearly $1 billion, supported by contributions from donor nations and private organizations.
The immunization campaigns, which involve oral drops for children, have remarkably reduced more than 99% in polio cases. However, in extremely rare instances, the live virus in the vaccine can lead to polio or mutate, potentially causing new outbreaks.
In the current year, seven cases of polio attributed to the vaccination method have been reported, all of which occurred in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, over 270 cases have been linked to a vaccine-derived virus in 21 countries across three continents.