Pakistan considers prison sentences to boost polio vaccinations

Parents face a one-month jail term and a potential fine of $168 if their child is not vaccinated

A health worker administers a polio vaccine to a child at a railway station in Karachi, Pakistan. AP
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Authorities in Pakistan's Sindh province are mulling prison sentences for parents who fail to vaccinate their children against polio and eight other diseases.

About 62,000 parents, mostly in Sindh, refused polio vaccinations for their children in January, prompting authorities to propose the new law with penalties.

Under the legislation, parents will face a one-month jail term and a potential fine of $168 if their child is not vaccinated against several diseases, including polio, measles and pneumonia.

Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan are the only countries where the spread of polio has never been eradicated.

The potentially fatal, paralysing disease mostly strikes children up to age 5 and typically spreads in contaminated water.

In April, then-Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif convened an emergency meeting over the first polio case in 15 months, as a 15-month-old boy who was hit by the virus in the north-western district of North Waziristan.

Polio vaccination teams have also come under physical attacks across the country.

A country must be declared polio-free for three years to officially eradicate the disease, and more than 95 per cent of the population must be immunised.

Parental approval

In Sindh province, the refusal rate for the vaccine is as high as 15 per cent, the Associated Press reported.

Under the proposed legislation, doses won't be administered to children without parental approval, an unnamed official told the outlet.

Dr Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Centre at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said it would be extremely challenging to rebuild trust with punitive measures.

"The oral polio vaccine is not the best vaccine, but it’s still much better than not getting the vaccine at all."

"It’s ultimately the job of governments to stand up for children and we know that if we don’t vaccinate a certain percentage of children, that polio will always come back."

Last year, the virus was detected in rich countries including Britain, Israel and the US for the first time in nearly a decade.

In 2021, the UAE donated Dh84 million ($23 million) to fight polio in Pakistan.

Updated: October 02, 2023, 3:39 AM