President Yoweri Museveni. PHOTO | PPU

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New health law bites: Jail terms, hefty fines

What you need to know:

  • The new law provides for at least 16 offences, including penalising owners of homes or businesses with unkempt compounds or individuals who spend nights where food is prepared.

Ugandans who contravene provisions of the newly-signed Public Health (Amendment) Act, 2022, face a raft of stiffer penalties, including jail terms of up to a year or Shs5m fine, or both. 

Details of the punishments for revised and new offences are contained in the legislation that President Museveni assented to on February 8.

It gives the government, through the Ministry of Health that sponsored the Bill, teeth to bite violators such as parents who fail to vaccinate their children and, or any one who fails to report an outbreak of “unusual” diseases and disclose the whereabouts of contacts.

When tabling the amendments for the first time in February last year, the Health ministry argued most provisions of the parent Act, enacted in 1935, had become obsolete and  specified penalties non-deterrent.  
The new law lays emphasis on prevention and management of infectious diseases and epidemics – a central theme of public health intervention.

In it, lawmakers provide for at least 16 offences, including penalising owners of homes or businesses with unkempt compounds or individuals who spend nights where food is prepared.

Parents will find difficulty enrolling their charges in schools because presentation of certificates, for both the child and parent/guardian, for government-prescribed mandatory inoculations, will be requisite proof of compliance.

Fines imposed for the different offences range from hundreds of thousands to millions of shillings, with the highest individual level grossing Shs4m, while institutional offenders will pay up to Shs50m.

“There is a need to address emerging public health threats as earlier mentioned. Over the years, new infectious diseases such as haemorrhagic fevers like Ebola, Marburg, Crimean-Congo fever, Avian influenza and most recently, Covid-19, have taken centre stage of global health,” Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng said in justifying the amendments.

Under the revised law, an individual who goes to public places and willfully spreads an infectious   disease, upon conviction, suffers Shs3m or one-year imprisonment penalty, or both. 

Similar fines apply to violators of epidemic control measures issued by the minister responsible for Health, among them quarantines, bans on public events and curfews.

The revised legislation, like its predecessor, requires the minister superintending Health matters to be the one to declare an outbreak of epidemics and control measures specified in statutory instruments.

Random spitting in public is now punishable as is interfering with measures to prevent spillover of infectious diseases onto Ugandan territory, as well as failing to decontaminate a public vehicle that transports an infectious disease suspect.

Landlords and hoteliers will also be in trouble for letting out their premises or rooms previously occupied by an infected person, with a fine of up to Shs100,000, up from Shs400 and Shs1,000 fines provided in the old law.

A pupil of Kitante Primary School in Kampala receives a measles, rubella and polio vaccine during the nationwide immunisation campaign on October 16, 2019. The new law gives government teeth to bite violators such as parents who fail to vaccinate their children and, or anyone who fails to report an outbreak of “unusual” diseases and disclose the whereabouts of contacts.  PHOTO/FILE

The Public Health (Amendment) Act, 2022, generally revises fines put in place by British colonialists in the old legislation upwards because, as government argued during the Bill consideration, they have become paltry at present Ugandan currency value.

Now a convict will part with Shs100,000 for committing an offence that previously was punishable with Shs200 fine.

A person convicted for failing to report any unusual sickness or mortality among animals, risks Shs4m penalty or six months jail term, or both.

While Parliament rejected government’s plot to make vaccination of adults mandatory, all children will be eligible for jabs so long as the minister responsible for Health has, through a statutory instrument, declared a disease immunisable.

Parents and guardians will be required to avail vaccination certificates as a precondition for their children to be admitted to daycare, pre-primary or primary school, and the school is obliged to keep a copy of the certificate.

Non-compliance attracts Shs1m fine, or three-month time in prison, or both.  The law requires a parent/guardian to keep a vaccination certificate for at least 15 years.

To ensure no one dodges inoculation, the law provides that a person ineligible to be vaccinated for health or any other reason, will have to obtain an exemption certificate issued by a vaccinator.

It charges the government to ensure vaccines deployed for use in Uganda are safe and approved by the National Drug Authority, the statutory regulator, and accessible to recipients at no cost.

The Public Health (Amendment) Act, 2022, also spells doomsday for vaccine sceptics and prescribes Shs1m penalty or half-a-year jail term for anyone convicted for spreading misleading statement or information regarding use of any vaccine.

Section 43 tasks the government to bankroll health and wellness promotion to create awareness about non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which, according to the World Health Organisation, causes 74 percent of global deaths. 

Uganda’s Health ministry has lately reported rising cases of NCDs such as cardiovascular conditions and cancers. 

“Non-communicable diseases are on the increase, in terms of morbidity and mortality. Cancers, cardiovascular diseases, accidents, diabetes, mental health and pulmonary conditions have not only caused physical infirmity and death, but also are costly to households and governments,” Parliament’s Health Committee that processed the law, opined.

The committee chairperson, Dr Charles Ayume, welcomed the inclusion in the new law of a provision on NCDs as a possible game-changer in tackling the nascent health challenge. 

The law, under the section on fighting malaria through the prevention and destruction of mosquitos, imposes Shs5m on any person convicted for keeping open a tank or water storage vessel where the disease-causing insects breed.

If unpaid, the fine increases by Shs1m each passing day.
Keeping all “bottles, whole or broken, whether fixed on walls or not, tins, boxes, calabashes, earthenware vessels, shells or any other articles, and trees, standing or fallen, which are kept so that they are likely to retain water” will attract a fine of Shs200,000.

About the new law 

A fine of Shs3m is specified for offences of sleeping at a place where food is prepared for sale to the public, or blocking authorised inspectors. 

Offences for which no penalty is expressly provided under the Act attracts Shs4m fine, which with each passing day increases by Shs1m, if unpaid. 

Govt obligations 
●   Take all practical measures to ensure the provision of basic medical services to the population.
●   Ensure all Ugandans have access to health services.
●   Provide health facilities and opportunities necessary to enhance the welfare of women to enable them realise full potential and advancement.
●   Ensure no child is deprived of medical treatment for any reason.
●   Take appropriate measures to ensure persons with disabilities realise their full mental and physical potential.