, KANO, July 29 – A Nigerian state that has battled polio outbreaks has vowed to prosecute parents who refuse to immunise their children against the highly contagious disease, a health official said Thursday.
“The government will henceforth arrest and prosecute any parent that refuses to allow health workers to vaccinate his child against child-killer diseases, particularly polio,” the permanent secretary in the Kano state health ministry, Tajudeen Gambo, told AFP.
Parents would be charged under an already existing law prohibiting someone from denying children access to health care, he said. He said the law allows for penalties of jail time or fines, but he did not know how much for either.
Gambo said the government would also prosecute vaccine providers who refuse to report recalcitrant parents to the authorities.
“We have formed special surveillance teams and directed vaccinators to report any defaulting parent to such teams, and any vaccinator that fails to do that will also be prosecuted,” he said.
Thousands of vaccinators Thursday began a four-day door-to-door immunisation campaign of six million children in the northern state as part of a renewed international polio eradication drive.
UNICEF recently expressed concern over a resurgence of polio in northern Nigeria, where 20 cases had been recorded as at last week compared to 21 cases in the whole of last year.
Kano has so far recorded five polio cases this year compared to only one case in 2010 of the potentially paralysing disease, according to the World Health Organisation.
Between 2003 and 2004, the state suspended polio immunisation for 13 months following allegations by some Muslim clerics that the vaccine was laced with substances that could render girls infertile as part of a US-led Western plot to depopulate Africa.
The suspension prompted immunisation and sensitisation campaigns by international donors, in collaboration with health officials, political leaders, traditional chiefs and clerics.
The WHO has pledged to halt polio immunisation in Nigeria by the end of the year and stamp out the virus worldwide by 2012, but international aid agencies fear that a resurgence of the virus threatens to reverse major gains.