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

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid