Earlier this month Uganda passed a new law that targets parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.
Parents face up to six months in prison after claims by the Health Minister and others that a growing religious “cult” is preventing parents from having their children immunized.
The new law also requires children to have an immunisation card to allow them to go to school.
The new law was signed by President Yoweri Museveni on March 10, but it wasn’t announced until this week.
The Immunization Act would require parents to have their children get shots for diseases such as measles, polio, tuberculosis and meningitis – or face jail time.
Children would also be denied education as it requires them to possess an immunization card to attend school.
The ‘anti-vaxxer’ organization known as the 666 has been hiding children in slums to prevent them from receiving shots, Health Minister Sarah Achieng Opendi told the BBC.
“It started in a few districts in eastern Uganda, but now it has spread and now we are seeing it all over the country,” she said.
666 members were arrested in 2014 after discouraging followers from participating in a national identity card registration. Local media claims the 666 are unwilling to participate in anything to do with numbers and also prohibit visiting hospitals to receive medical treatment.
There was an estimated 10,000 members of the 666 in Uganda in 2014. Previously no law was in place that would allow for their arrest if found to be preventing children from being vaccinated.
Opendi claims 3 percent of the country’s children have not had the required immunizations, including for polio and meningitis.
About 3 million children under the age of five years old die each year in the African region, with a considerable number of those deaths preventable by vaccine, according to the World Health Organization.