Move to criminalise rejection of polio vaccines gains support

Mohammed-Ali-PateCampaign effective amidst security challenges

THE apathy and misunderstanding of the objectives of the anti-polio campaign is gradually giving way to a well-co-ordinated assault on the childhood disease.

States and traditional rulers, who earlier opposed the exercise over fears of foreign powers’ attempt to check the population of their people, have joined the campaign to strip polio naked.

To demonstrate that their support for the scheme goes beyond mere statements, the states and traditional rulers apart from mobilising their subjects for the exercise are even pushing for a law that would make it an offence for parents or guardians to disallow their children and wards from receiving Oral Polio Vaccines (OPV).

Some governors and monarchs, who spoke with The Guardian on the immunisation scheme, said the proposed law should make it mandatory for parents to immunise their children against polio and for its rejection to attract punishment.

In fact, some concerned states have gone ahead to enact laws that make immunisation against child diseases mandatory and the rejection of the vaccines a punishable offence.

Bauchi, Benue, Rivers and Jigawa states are in the fore-front of efforts of have a legal frame-work for the anti-polio campaign. The Rivers State government is using the child’s rights to achieve the goals while Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido, has sent a bill to the House of Assembly seeking the lawmakers’ consent to make immunisation free and compulsory.

But there is a general belief that a law passed by the National Assembly making immunisation compulsory and its rejection an offence would produce the desired results.

Some state governors and health officials, who spoke with The Guardian on the renewed assault on polio, urged the two arms of the federal legislature to add a legal bite to the campaign.

And despite the security challenges in the country, the Federal Government through the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) and the Presidential Task Force on Polio Eradication (PTPE) have broken fresh grounds in the just concluded four-day National Immunisation Plus Days (NIPDs).

The Guardian’s appraisal of the exercise across the country showed that over 80 per cent of the target population was reached.

It was also learnt that the virus had continued to spread in the country because of the rejection of the vaccines due to the perception by a section of the country that it is a Greek gift from the West to check Nigeria’s population.

To ensure effective coverage and guarantee vaccine administration, the Benue State governor, Gabriel Suswam, has appealed to the National Assembly to enact a law that enhances children’s rights to immunisation.

The Emir of Dass, Alhaji Usman Bilyaminu Othman, who doubles as Bauchi State Chairman of the Traditional Rulers Committee on Polio Eradication, however blamed the fresh outbreak of wild polio virus in Gamawa Local Council on the care-free attitude of some parents to the health needs of their children.

He said laws regarding defaulters of polio immunisation were underway, and when enacted, would deal decisively with offenders.

Chairman, PTPE and Minister of State for Health, Dr. Muhammad Ali Pate, told The Guardian that “though there were challenges, the last nationwide campaign was a huge success. I am impressed with the success we recorded, especially in the high-risk states of Borno and Yobe. The Federal Government has assured the people and government of the states in the North with new polio cases of its full support in the current efforts to ensure peace, stability and well-being of the entire people of the state.

The National Polio Free Torch Campaign was launched in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, on Monday, April 1, 2012.

The task force is mandated to fast-track the eradication of polio in the country and ensure a better outcome on the nation’s health indices, especially on primary healthcare system.

The Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Ado Muhammad, said successful launching of the polio torch campaign by the minister’s team and the partners was a clear indication that Borno was safe for all activities.

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