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Polio Campaign Encounters Resistance in Central Africa

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the ongoing polio vaccination campaign is facing resistance in Central African countries. The United Nations has been assisting six countries in the region with synchronized vaccinations after Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea reported more than a dozen cases of the wild polio virus in less than three years.

Heath care workers deployed to vaccinate children at homes, schools, markets and churches say they met stiff resistance to giving the inoculations due to misinformation and suspicion.

Here in Cameroon, vaccination agent Ngambi Pierre tells VOA that he struggled in vain to convince a pastor of the Holy Ghost revival church in eastern Cameroon who said his faith is against vaccinations as solutions to health problems.

He says the problem is becoming complex because certain parents are heeding calls from some religious leaders and refusing to have their children vaccinated.

A complex issue

The root of the problem is misinformation, fear and suspicion.
Local media reports that some Nigerian refugees in northern Cameroon have refused the polio vaccine claiming that it is a ploy by developed countries to inject people with chemicals that reduce fertility in order to reduce the population of Muslims.

The director of the WHO Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Dr. Hamid Jafiri, says it is imperative to combat these mistaken beliefs with proven medical benefits across the globe.

"I want to assure families that this is a very, very, safe vaccine. Every year, more than 2 billion doses of this vaccine is administered to children so I will request the families that they should cooperate and support the work of vaccination teams who are moving from door to door or meet them in the market. Because unless the families cooperate, unless the district administrators cooperate, unless the governors
cooperate it is going to be difficult to get rid of this virus."

Refugees complicate situation

Until a few years ago, polio had been eradicated in all but a few countries - Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But conflict-driven mass refugee movements and poor sanitation have been mostly responsible for the re-emergence of polio in the Middle East and Africa - including Iraq, Syria, Somalia and Ethiopia.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative says Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea have each reported 5 new cases this year.

Polio is a virus which mainly strikes children under five years of age and can lead to irreversible paralysis and - in up to 10% of cases - death.

Close to 30 years ago, polio afflicted more than 350,000 people a year. Since the WHO created the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988, the number of cases of polio has declined by 99 percent - to just 416 cases reported in 2013.

Cameroon's Public Health Minister Andre Mama Fouda says despite the challenges, they are determined to eradicate the crippling disease.

He says he is inviting every one to make sure that all children are vaccinated because by so doing lives are saved and preventable diseases are avoided. He adds that people should open their doors and receive vaccination teams.

Last year the Global Polio Eradication Initiative launched a new strategic plan to wipe out polio by 2018. More than $4 billion has been pledged to the effort - which requires that every child on earth be vaccinated.

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