News

Polio Still a Problem in Parts of Nigeria

Volunteers administer polio vaccine to a child in Kaduna, Nigeria, (File)
Volunteers administer polio vaccine to a child in Kaduna, Nigeria, (File)
Anne Look

Resistance to polio vaccination remains in northern Nigeria, and the region is repeatedly blamed for cross-border polio outbreaks. Authorities in one state are threatening to prosecute parents who do not immunize their children, while health workers in Borno state are partnering with traditional chiefs as they try to control a recent outbreak. Outreach strategies have netted mixed results.

Nigeria is one of three polio-endemic countries left in the world. It is a distinction that President Goodluck Jonathan called "embarrassing" earlier this month.

The president has created a new task force to eradicate the highly preventable disease by 2015. He has doubled government funding for the efforts to $30 million per year.

Health workers, however, say the real barriers remain in the minds of parents.

In 2004, community leaders in Nigeria's primarily Muslim north called for a boycott of the vaccine amid rumors that it was a Western plot to sterilize Muslim children. Scientific analyses disproved the rumors, but the damage was done. Polio cases exploded in subsequent years, as health workers struggled to reassure parents.

Nigeria's far northeastern Borno state has launched a door-to-door immunization campaign aimed at vaccinating five million children. Local media is reporting eight cases of polio there so far this year.

Borno State Health Commissioner, Dr. Alma Anas Kolo, says there was a case of polio resulting in paralysis reported just last month, a two-year-old girl named Aisha.

"Aisha's case is one in 1000," said Kolo. "What that means is that we have about 200 cases of children similar to Aisha that are undetected in her own community."

Polio is a highly infectious disease that primarily affects children under five years of age. It can cause irreversible paralysis, and even death. However, the disease can almost always be prevented by multiple doses of the oral polio vaccine.

Borno State has drafted traditional chiefs and religious leaders to spread the message about immunization.

The Shehu, or local monarch, of Borno State, Abubakar Ibn Umar Garbai Al-Amin El-Kanemi, says the government would not be giving out something dangerous.

"So therefore the question of taking polio vaccine is dangerous, please let us forget this," said El-Kanemi. "Let us interest our wards, let us interest our colleagues and everybody. All hands must be on deck for success of the campaign."

Borno shares a triangular border with Chad, Cameroon and Niger. Efforts there are key to controlling cross-border transmission. Borno state is also the base of operations for the militant Islamic sect, Boko Haram. Growing insecurity has crippled vaccination efforts in the past year.

Authorities in neighboring Kano state say they have not recorded a single case of polio this year thanks to more controversial measures. Security personnel escort health workers as they go door-to-door dolling out vaccines. Parents who refuse face jail time. The strategy has sparked national debate about the constitutionality of forcing someone to be vaccinated.   

Pockets of resistance to immunization remain throughout the North, often drawing as much on ignorance, about how the vaccine works, as a generalized distrust of the government.

Tommi Laulajainen is chief polio communications officer for the U.N. Children's Fund in Nigeria. UNICEF collects data on why communities refuse the vaccine, which needs to be administered on four separate occasions to give a child full protection.

"Reasons they might state is that maybe this vaccine is not safe," said Laulajainen. "They are sometimes questioning why there are so many rounds of the polio campaign. Some of the reasons are also religiously driven and there are some of the Islamic sects that may not be totally behind the polio campaign in northern Nigeria. Some of the other reasons are also linked directly to the community's unhappiness with the government services that are available in the villages and settlements. They state that all we get is polio campaigns. Why aren't you bringing us water and better roads and health clinics."

He says traditional leaders can be very effective ambassadors, however the strategy is still underutilized and inconsistent.

"The traditional leaders are very effective in resolving refusals when they occur, but they maybe should be much more engaged in promoting the vaccinations before the actual refusals start appearing," he said.

He said UNICEF has been training mothers to become community educators and encourage their more hesitant neighbors to vaccinate their children.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs