We didn’t have to seek parents consent – Ministry of Health

In the wake of likely litigation battles with parents who accuse government of immunizing their children without seeking their consent, the Ministry of Health has told journalists that parental consent is unnecessary during national immunization campaigns.

Last week, government launched a mass Measles – Rubella vaccination campaign amid resistance from sections of the public, which has so far resulted in two suits being registered in courts of law by displeased parents.

In one of the cases, two parents of Greenhill Academy, an upscale Kampala school, sued the school for subjecting their children without seeking their consent as parents yet the children had already been immunized against Measles and Rubella and hence needed no further shot.

But the Ministry of Health says that the law takes away the rights of parents to decide whether children can be immunized in national campaigns or not.

Dr Alfred Driwale, the Programme Manager of the Uganda Expanded Programme on Immunization (UNEPI) explains that while the Immunization Act gives parents the responsibility to take their children for immunization between the ages of 0-5 years, they have no responsibility when it comes to national exercises.

He argues that while schools might inform parents about the campaign, and explain its benefits, they are not obliged to seek their consent, adding that the Immunisation Act gives the minister powers to call for a mandatory immunization campaign in case of an epidemic.

The law also prescribes a six-month jail sentence or a monetary fine not exceeding Shs 240,000 or both for any parent or guardians who don’t take children for immunization.

Dr Driwale that the decision to immunize learners this year was made following an outbreak that affected more than 300,000 people in the country. Data from the health ministry shows that over 46,000 have been admitted at health centers with 600 deaths reported.

However, Moses Mulumba, the Director of Center for Health, Human Rights and Development, a non-profit, research and advocacy organization focusing on the right to health, argues that even when it comes to mandatory government programmes, parents who are the sole caretakers of children should be given the opportunity to give consent.

Mulumba faults the government for failing to provide adequate information to parents before the vaccination exercise began. This he says would make parents more comfortable with the immunization campaign.