Officials and traditional rulers in some states are pushing for a law that would make it criminal for any parent to prevent their child from receiving the vaccine against polio, the Guardian newspaper reported on Tuesday.
The states of Bauchi, Benue, Rivers and Jigawa are leading efforts to have a binding legal framework to help fight against polio in Nigeria, which is the only country in Africa where the disease is endemic.
The governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, has sent a bill to the State House of Assembly seeking lawmakers’ consent to make immunisation free and compulsory.
“The proposed law should make it mandatory for parents to immunise their children against polio and for its rejection to attract punishment,” the paper said.
Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus that invades the nervous system. It can lead to total paralysis in a matter of hours and can be fatal.
Experts say the best way to fight the disease is by immunising as many children as possible.
The virus continued to spread in Nigeria because vaccines were rejected due to perceptions in a part of the country that the vaccine was an attempt by foreign powers to check population growth in the country, the paper said.
Health officials and traditional rulers say the situation has improved over the years but some authorities believe that a law passed by the National Assembly making immunisation compulsory and its rejection an offence would produce even better results, the paper said.
Nigerian authorities want to immunise 57.7 million children in a nationwide campaign launched last week.
The country’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, on March 1 inaugurated a Presidential Task Force to deal with the polio emergency and pledged $30 million per year for the next two years for polio eradication activities, according to the World Health Organization.
The anti-polio vaccination campaign in Nigeria is part of a region-wide effort targeting 111 million children under the age of five in 20 countries.