Ugandan rights groups are criticizing a proposed law that would punish people who refuse to be vaccinated during an outbreak with up to six months in prison.
Last week, Uganda’s state minister for trade introduced an amendment to the Public Health Act that would impose fines and jail sentences on those who evade measures meant to curb the spread of infectious disease.
The bill does not specifically mention COVID-19, but of course, COVID-19 is the disease the country and the world are dealing with right now.
The bill states that whoever conceals an infectious disease could face fines of $850 or up to one year in jail.
School administrators who admit students without evidence of vaccination, or a parent who fails to present their child for vaccination, could face up to six months in jail, a fine of about $1,100 or both.
Allana Kembabazi is a health policy analyst with the NGO the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights. She says the proposed punitive measures would only lead Ugandans to find means of dodging the rules.
“The way they have handled the roll out has been poor. You go to a health centre they tell you, they are out today," said Kembabazi. "You take your first Pfizer dose, you have to hunt for the second. If they could address the issue with the roll out and really put in place a targeted community outreach campaign, that would be, I think, more effective. Because, when you put all these punitive sanctions, some people will just try and go ahead and forge.”
At the Naguru government hospital, a new mother walked in to get her first COVID-19 shot. She was turned away by health workers who told her she was late for her scheduled vaccination time.
She told VOA she delayed getting the vaccine because when she was pregnant, she was never assured that it was safe for her and her unborn baby.
“I don’t think the vaccine is like 100 percent authentic," she said. "The normal vaccines we know, like for vaccinating children, they take about five years to manufacture. This is something of maybe a few months for a vaccine to be developed. So, negative.”
Dr. Driwale Alfred, the head of Uganda’s immunization program, tells VOA that those who want to dodge vaccination should know this is a public good and other Ugandans need to be protected from people who make reckless decisions.
He argues that the government has already carried out sufficient awareness of both the disease and the vaccines.
“There are those who are not going to comply, but they will either make other people fall sick or they will frustrate the containment effort," said Driwale. "Now, to protect the public and appealing to people’s conscience for responsible decision making. If they fail then that becomes a mischief. A law will now come in to deal with this issue.”
The Ministry of Health continues to urge Ugandans to wear masks, social distance and use hand sanitizer. However, the ministry argues that in order to save lives using vaccines, any measure that makes people get vaccinated is welcome.
The bill is before the health committee in parliament, which will carry out public consultations on whether the new amendments are necessary.