Ugandas president Yoweri Museveni has signed into law, the Public Health (Amendment) Act 2022 which among other provisions enforces mandatory immunization of children against immunizable diseases.
The amended legislation on public health now provides for the repeal of obsolete provisions and revises the fines for offences committed under the Act. Among the hotly contested clauses during debate on the Bill was the Health Minister’s insistence that vaccination be compulsory for all Ugandans.
The bill initially proposed that in an the event of an occurrence or outbreak of any disease that requires vaccination or revaccination for residents, a Local Government council shall issue a public notice requesting all persons to undergo inspection, vaccination and revaccination.
At it’s passing, however, MPs rejected Clause 47(2) which prescribed a fine of 1million or imprisonment not exceeding 3 months for those who fail or neglect to comply with provisions on vaccination or re-vaccination.
The bill also proposed the same penalty for a parent or guardian who fails to take their baby for vaccination within 12 months from birth.
The new law upheld the vaccination of children of 12 months within birth against immunizable diseases that may be declared by the Ministry of Health.
Under the new law, Schools will be required to ensure the child is immunized before they are admitted into day-care, pre-primary or primary school.
It was initially passed on July 19 by Parliament but was sent back to the August House by President Museveni in October due to “sticking issues.” On Nov.2 the legislators reconsidered the six clauses that President based upon to return the bill.
Among the clauses that Museveni was uncomfortable with was the interchangeable use of the words vaccination and immunization.
While the term immunization (physiological event that takes place for one to acquire immunity) and vaccination (the act of giving a vaccine) are used interchangeably, President Museveni suggested that the MPs explicitly use the term vaccination in the amended law.
President Museveni further recommended that the powers of the Director General of Health Services should be restricted to assigning a vaccination and not appointing one as mentioned in the Bill. He argued that the Director General of Health Services has no powers to appoint staff under the law.
The Parliamentary Committee on Health which processed the bill had also passed a clause in which the destruction of infectious beddings, clothes and articles would be done upon authorization by the Local Council to which the President objected, instead preferring the Medical Officer have that authority.
The committee also agreed with another recommendation to replace “Minister responsible for Agriculture” with “Minister responsible for animal and plant health” to cater for diseases originating from animals and plants.
Following it’s enactment and passing, civil society activists noted that the law did not envisage the role of the private sector in combating threats to public health yet the Ugandan economy, including the health sector, has been liberalized to allow private actors considerable influence over the design and implementation of public health interventions.
They argued that while enacting laws or modifications to such legislation, private sector participation in legal and policy review, formulation and implementation is critical.