Pakistan officials consider a new way to boost polio vaccination: prison
KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — Authorities in one Pakistan province are turning to a controversial new tactic in the decades-long initiative to wipe out polio: prison.
Last month, the government in Sindh introduced a bill that would imprison parents for up to one month if they fail to get their children immunised against polio or eight other common diseases.
Experts at the World Health Organization and elsewhere worry the unusual strategy could further undermine trust in the polio vaccines, particularly in a country where many believe false conspiracies about them and where dozens of vaccinators have been shot and killed.
Adding to the problems faced by experts trying to persuade people of the vaccines' safety: The oral vaccines themselves now cause most polio cases worldwide.
WHO's polio director in the Eastern Mediterranean warned the new law could backfire.
“Coercion is counterproductive,” said Dr Hamid Jafari.
He said health workers have typically succeeded in raising immunisation rates in vaccine-hesitant areas by figuring out the reasons for people's refusal and addressing those concerns, like bringing in a trusted political or religious leader to talk with people.
“My own sense is that Pakistan wants to have this legislation in their back pocket in case they need it,” Jafari said.
“I would be surprised if there's a willingness to actually enforce these coercive measures.”
Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan are the only countries where the spread of polio has never been stopped.
The potentially fatal, paralysing disease mostly strikes children up to age 5 and typically spreads in contaminated water.
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