The World Health Organization has spent $5 billion over the last 20
years to immunize more than two billion children around the world
against polio. Yet the deadly and crippling disease still poses a risk
in four countries, including Nigeria which accounts for more than 50
percent of new cases. VOA recently visited the northern
Nigerian state of Kano where polio is common and officials struggle to
convince the local population to immunize their children.
Muhammad Adamu was only a year-old he developed a high fever and was
later diagnosed with polio. He now has weakened muscles and paralysis
in his legs. His mother Maryam Hajia says it is difficult to accept
that her 5-year-old son's condition is permanent.
"I am really disturbed and worried over the present situation of my child, a polio survivor now," she said.
Adamu is one of a growing number of children with polio in Kano. In the
nearby village of Gazawa, nine children have the disease. Last year
Nigeria reported more than 790 cases, the largest outbreak of polio in
the world. Open sewers and poor sanitary conditions are conducive for
the polio virus. But many parents in northern Nigeria also refuse to
immunize their children.
The World Health Organization
attributes the increased cases in northern Nigeria to an earlier
decision by authorities in the heavily Muslim region to boycott the
polio immunization program.
In 2004 false rumors and allegations
spread throughout the Northern Nigerian state of Kano that the polio
vaccine contained birth control drugs as part of a secret western plot
to reduce population growth in the Muslim world.
boycott lasted only 11 months and the Kano government now supports
immunization efforts, doubts about the vaccine linger. Gazawa village
chief Ibrahim Mamman explains why local leaders rejected immunization
"We stopped cooperating with the immunization people because of fear the vaccine contained birth control," he said.
leaders are now organizing public meetings like this one in the village
of Gawo to educate local communities about the disease and the vaccine.
VOA health reporter Sani Malumfashi produced a short documentary on
polio that is shown at these gatherings.
The documentary incorporates dramatizations, medical information and testimonials by political and religious leaders.
main motive of doing the documentary and a drama program is to bridge
the communication gap, to correct the misinformation, give the ordinary
people the correct information for them to make an informed decision
regarding taking polio vaccine as the only option," explains Malumfashi.
the end of this education session Malumfashi asked the villagers if
they would now cooperate with the polio immunization program. The
response was overwhelmingly positive. But Dr. Lola Mabugunje with
Compass, a Nigerian health education organization, says the Nigerian
government must go beyond encouraging compliance and compel all
Nigerians to immunize their children.
"We don't have a carrot
and stick method. I call it carrot and stick. If I don't do this, what
happens to me? No, it is not in place. Until that is generalized in
this country, we may not move anywhere on immunization," said Dr.
Without forced compliance, she adds, polio will continue to afflict Nigeria and potentially spread beyond its borders.