Uganda Rolls Out Compulsory Immunization to Dispel Anti-Vaccine Myths

KAMPALA – Patience*, a Ugandan maid, planned on taking her three-year-old son for polio immunization during the country’s mass campaigns a year ago, until her landlord’s wife told her a shocking myth.

“The medicine they are injecting them with means the boy when he’s an adult won’t be able to reproduce,” Patience, 32, recalled to IPS what she’d been informed. “She said: ‘Don’t even think about immunization’.”

Patience said that in her neighborhood, the Kyebando slum in Kampala, many families “lied to medical personnel” because they were “terrified” about what this woman had told them.

Earlier this year, the country’s president signed the Immunization Act 2016, prescribing fines, a jail term of six months or both, for parents who don’t vaccinate their children in the age bracket of five days to one year old.

“They said the vaccines are made out of pigs, wild animals, (that) our children will behave like wild animals.” — MP Huda Oleru

The Act also requires the production of an immunization card before admission to day care centres, pre-primary or primary education. It also aims to provide for compulsory immunization of women of reproductive age and other target groups against immunisable diseases.

According to the legislation, passed by Parliament last year, diseases for which immunization is compulsory include tuberculosis, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B, polio and measles.

One in five African children still do not receive all of the most basic vaccines they need, including ones for three critical diseases—measles, rubella and neonatal tetanus – a report issued by WHO at the first ministerial on Immunization in Africa, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in February.

Uganda was ranked lowest in east Africa for immunization coverage, with one example being the country’s 2014 diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP3) coverage which was at 78 percent compared to DRC (80 percent) Kenya (81 percent), Tanzania (97 percent) and Rwanda (99 percent).

According to outgoing female MP Huda Oleru, who tabled the private member’s bill in 2011, the biggest obstacle to vaccination in Uganda was the 666 cult made up of more 500 members but “growing” across the country, who refuse to immunize their children.

“They said the vaccines are made out of pigs, wild animals, (that) our children will behave like wild animals,” Oleru told IPS.

Oleru is continuing talks with the groups in eastern Uganda, and said she hoped “in the long-term” they would come around.

But for now the law was the “easiest way” of getting them to immunize their children.

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by Amy Fallon

Photo Credits: Amy Fallon/IPS News