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

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy 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 Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid