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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs