News / Africa

Nigeria Hopes to Eradicate Polio Despite Insurgency

FILE - Rotary polio vaccination day in Kaduna, Nigeria. (Rotary International)
FILE - Rotary polio vaccination day in Kaduna, Nigeria. (Rotary International)
Reuters

A Nigerian military offensive against Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram has opened up a corridor for mobile units of health workers to vaccinate children against polio in parts of the northeast.

But the worsening insurgency poses a grave risk to the campaign to stamp out the crippling virus in Africa's most populous nation. Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the three countries in the world in which polio is still endemic.

Aid workers say a change of approach in Nigeria, using 'hit and run' mobile units that can race into dangerous places when security improves and then get out quickly, has enabled vaccination in zones that previously were off limits.

“We have not gotten this close to getting rid of polio [in Nigeria] before,” Abdulrahman Tunji Funsho, chair of the Nigeria PolioPlus Committee of Rotary International, one of the main organizations behind the campaign, told Reuters.

Boko Haram, which is fighting to set up an Islamic state in religiously-mixed Nigeria, has killed health workers doing polio vaccinations during its five-year-old insurgency, although Funsho said that had not happened since January last year.

There had been only four new cases of polio this year so far -- three in Kano State, which has been largely spared Islamist violence apart from the occasional bomb attack in its capital city, and one in Yobe state, Funsho said.

That compared with 53 cases last year, although the high season for transmission of the disease is from July to December, during and just after the rainy season.

Boko Haram's violence in rural areas has intensified since the government declared a state of emergency last year in the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.

Funsho said the military campaign had driven the group out of northeastern cities like the Borno state capital Maiduguri, though, creating a space for health workers.

“As far as inoculation is concerned, it hasn't made things worse. The picture is better: we're reaching more children,” said Funsho.

Better access

In 2003/2004, politicians and religious leaders in largely Muslim northern Nigeria, which has always maintained a fierce rivalry with the more prosperous and developed mostly Christian south, impeded efforts to eradicate polio by spreading rumors that the vaccines caused infertility and AIDS.

The only two other African nations still suffering cases of polio are Cameroon and Somalia, and all the cases came indirectly from Nigeria, said Funsho.

Polio hits the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis. The World Health Organization [WHO] warns children everywhere are at risk until it has been completely wiped out.

The flow of people displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency to cities from villages had in some ways made it easier to tackle polio, according to Melissa Corkum, spokeswoman for the United Nations Children's fund [UNICEF].

“People are coming out of the security-compromised ... rural areas and to the metropolitan areas like Maiduguri, so we have an opportunity to immunize,” she said. “We are now able to go into areas where last year we weren't able to, but it's always changing. Last year, say February, every area was red, but now ... we have had better access.”

But Corkum said there were still plenty of no-go areas, with 300,000 children still inaccessible. Boko Haram attacks in the northeast are continuing.

Heidi Larson, a lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who has helped win acceptance for the polio inoculation campaign in Nigeria, said suspicion in the Muslim north remained a hurdle.

“What happened with Nigeria and the north was a game changer because ... [we] realized the power of rumor. Since then, there has been more attention given to community concerns and more engagement with traditional and religious leaders,” she said.

 

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

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