The Sunday Mail
Deputy News Editor
All children will soon be compulsorily immunised, and Government is finalising the legislative framework to promote the public health initiative.
There have been concerns that expanded immunisation programmes have not achieved maximum results as some sections of society hide behind religious beliefs to avoid vac- cination.
Government is comprehensively overhauling health legislation to update and align the Public Health Act, passed in 1924, with current requirements and the national Constitution.
Last week, Health and Child Care Minister Dr David Parirenyatwa told legislators in the National Assembly that the Public Health Bill proposed changes to meet new health challenges.
The Bill is before the House.
According to Section 42 of the Public Health Bill, “where there are compelling reasons of public health, specifically regarding minors and legally incapacitated individuals, the (Health) Minister shall by notice in the (Government) Gazette declare the date on which compulsory immunisation shall take place.”
Dr Parirenyatwa last week explained: “This is a very new innovation (to counter situations) where some sections of communities would refuse to be immunised. So, the Bill seeks to make it compulsory where it is necessary.”
The proposed changes could set Government and some apostolic sects, who are opposed to conventional medicine, on a collision course.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights senior programmes manager Mr Tinashe Mundawarara said: “The law is in the best interests of the child and therefore no child should be deprived of these benefits guaranteed in the Constitution of Zimbabwe Section 81(2).
“The Government has the obligation to control epidemics and diseases by protecting the children and religious groups that seek to violate this provision, under the pretext of their doctrines, need to be enlightened on the benefits of this programme.”
Mr Mundawarara said while parents play a key role in child development, minors were also protected by Article 24 of the United Nations Convention of Rights of the Child.
Part of Article 24 of the convention reads: “State parties recognise the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health.
“State parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services.”
Research shows that immunisation averts millions of deaths worldwide.
Said Dr Parirenyatw:, “The Public Health Bill is really an amendment Bill. It seeks to replace, seeks to update and to align to the Constitution the law relating to public health.
“The present Public Health Act was passed as far back as 1924 and it needs updating to meet the current health challenges and needs of our population. When that Bill was passed in 1924, a lot of other issues have happened in- between.
“The Bill seeks to introduce an Annual National Health Forum to be convened by the Public Health Advisory Board to discuss pertinent public health issues.”
The proposed law also looks at water safety and sanitation including waste management, which are seen as the source of the current outbreaks of typhoid, cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases.
It will align local laws with international health regulations in abolishing inspection of foreign visitors for diseases that are not prevalent in their home countries, such as yellow fever.