Preventing epidemics

Published: February 3, 2013

Karachi’s 14-month polio-free status comes to an end with first polio case of 2013. PHOTO: FILE

The City Government of Lahore, in a decision that is sure to be controversial, is no longer going to issue birth certificates or allow admission into school to children who have not been vaccinated for polio and measles. On the face of it, this move smacks of totalitarianism with the city government taking decisions which should rightfully belong to parents. That would be true, however, only if measles and polio did not spread so quickly and affect entire communities. Occasionally, the actions of one negligent person can affect an entire society and, therefore, it is the government’s job to step in. As unfair as the decision may sound, the polio and measles epidemics are just too serious an issue for the government to sit idly by. In fact, other local governments of the country would be wise to follow Lahore’s lead.

Of course, the aim of the city government should be to deny as few children a birth certificate and admission to school as possible. This should be a punitive punishment of the last resort. There are many other positive steps that can be taken to ensure children are vaccinated. Public information programmes touting the benefits of vaccination and countering the propaganda of conspiracy-theory spewing clerics should be at the top of the agenda. The city also needs to recruit people who are an integral part of their communities to carry out vaccinations as outsiders may not garner the same trust as locals.

Moreover, the Lahore government, and indeed the federal and every other city government, has to ensure that vaccinations reach children. For this, foolproof security must be provided. It would be cruel to deny children birth certificates and school admission when security concerns mean they may not even get the opportunity to be vaccinated. Furthermore, the city government should, having taken this measure, ensure that the epidemics faced are brought under control and vaccinations ensured as soon as possible, as one would not want this measure to become another excuse for a dismal literacy rates.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 3rd, 2013.

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