Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq, the Prime Minister’s focal person for polio, has made changes to her bill in the Senate that institutes mandatory, uniform vaccination laws across the country. She has argued that Article 141 of the Constitution allows the parliament to adopt a law for the whole country if any two provinces have passed the same, and this should be applied to vaccinations. The Uniform Law for Mandatory Vaccination aims at saving the lives of over 400,000 children who die of preventable diseases every year in Pakistan. It will make polio vaccination a legal duty and not a choice.

A large part of the population, especially in rural areas, does not care for vaccination, giving rise to high child mortality rates. The health of a Pakistani child cannot be a matter of choice, left up to ignorant parents who hold their children hostage to their own versions of religious belief. When the bill becomes law, it will tie the Form B, needed by a family to register its children with Nadra, to the child’s vaccination certificate. Similarly, a child will get admission in school on producing the vaccination card, or else get vaccinated first. Parents who fail to get their children vaccinated will be fined.

This may be the only way to deal with the problem and rid Pakistan of polio forever. A child’s health has a huge role to play in the economic success of a community. Immunisation, even at 30 to 40 percent of the population, has huge spill over effects. Research suggests higher per capita incomes in the long run and lower incidence of infection spreading where even half of the children are immunized. Additionally, these beliefs that inhibit people from immunising their children are not as hard held as they seem. Research from rural India suggests that economic incentives, like cash transfers of food gifts can easily turn the tide against religion being a reason for boycotting immunisation. In our case the government is considering using negative incentives, like fines, which will cause more dissent and make room for bureaucratic corruption. It should consider positive reinforcement as well, so as to pre-empt the problem of fake vaccination cards being made as well as bribery to officials.

Health is the right of every child, and should not be up to the choice of the parent. Just as they have to trust a teacher to educate their child and a doctor to treat their child, they need to be taught to trust the state and doctors with immunisation. Additionally, anti-vaccination articles randomly found online, and a wanton trust in herbal medicine can have very dangerous consequences for public health. There are 196 countries in the world that are polio free due to proper vaccination. Pakistani parents are the only ones who have gotten it wrong.