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

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More