News / Africa

Polio on Rise in Nigeria, Insecurity to Blame

Polio sufferers Yusuf  Umar, right, and Aminu Ahmed use wooden blocks to propel themselves through the dusty streets of Kano, Nigeria, November 28, 2008.
Polio sufferers Yusuf Umar, right, and Aminu Ahmed use wooden blocks to propel themselves through the dusty streets of Kano, Nigeria, November 28, 2008.
Heather Murdock
ABUJA — While most of the world sees polio as a thing of the past, the disease appears to be on the rise in Nigeria.  The Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S.-based think tank, says the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria’s north is part of the problem and securing the area has to be part of the solution. 
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative says Nigeria has 77 new cases of polio this year so far - a near 25 percent increase compared to all of last year.  And that's more than any other single country.  
There is no cure for polio, but the disease can be prevented with a vaccine and it has been wiped out in most of the world.  If a person is infected with polio, it can lead to paralysis, disfigurement or death.  On the streets in Nigeria, survivors can be seen begging.  With useless legs they sit on boards with wheels.  They have to reach up to passersbys to ask for a little money.  
John Campbell, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, says the vaccine is available in northern Nigeria, where most of the victims are found, but families often refuse it.  He says many think it is a plot against Muslims devised by southern Christians and the West.

"A team administering the polio vaccine might work a street," said Campbell.  "When the local residents hear the team is coming, they start handing particularly their male babies out over the back fence so they are not there when the polio workers arrive."
He says this mistrust has been aggravated by Western pharmaceutical companies in the past, whose misdeeds have caused northern governors to shut down vaccine programs from time to time.  
The way to convince people the vaccine will help their children, he says, is to work through local institutions, like schools or mosques.

“We’re talking about a real issue that can best be addressed using indigenous and local structures," said Campbell. "But the indigenous and local structures are in many cases under assault, or at least under stress from Boko Haram.”
The militant group known popularly as Boko Haram has been blamed for over 1,000 deaths since 2009.  Most of the attacks have been in the north, but the group has also conducted bombings in the capital, including a media house and the local United Nations headquarters.  
Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim, the director of the Center for Democracy and Development in the Abuja, says ending the violence is largely dependent on negotiations, which the government says are in their beginning stages.  But, Ibrahim says, Boko Haram is secretive, and it is hard to tell if the talks are making progress.

"Nobody has actually spoken formally to these people so you don’t know their organizational structure," said Ibrahim.  "So even the statement that they are fractured may be a conjecture.  It may be true.  It may be false.  But we do know from what they themselves say that sometimes people that do not belong to them speak on their behalf."  
Campbell says insecurity in the north also makes it hard for aid groups to start new vaccine programs and the Boko Haram's ideology, which is deeply distrustful of the West, reinforces the fear of vaccines.  
The World Health Organization says polio cases have decreased by over 99 percent since 1988, from an estimated 350,000 victims.  Pakistan, Afghanistan and Chad are the only other countries besides Nigeria that have reported new cases this year.

You May Like

Video Egyptian Journalists Call for Press Freedom

Despite release of al-Jazeera journalists and others, Egyptian Journalist Syndicate says some remain imprisoned More

Turkey Survey Indicates Traditional Distrusts, Shift to the West

Comprehensive public opinion survey also found a large majority of those interviewed distrust all countries other than country’s neighbor, Azerbaijan More

Pakistan Court Upholds Death Sentence in Blasphemy Killing

Highest court upholds sentence of Mumtaz Qadri convicted of 2011 killing a provincial governor for criticizing country’s controversial blasphemy law More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making a Minti
October 07, 2015 4:17 AM
While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs