Some 30 million children in Nigeria are to be vaccinated against polio
and measles during an integrated immunization campaign set to begin in
the northern states on Wednesday. The drive is led by the country's
health ministry, with financial and technical support from UNICEF, the
World Health Organization and other partners. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa
filed this report from Abuja.
For five days 200,000 health workers will be stationed at 33,000 schools throughout northern Nigeria to administer oral polio drops and measles vaccines to millions of children under the age of five in a new drive to eradicate the two diseases.
Polio cases have more than doubled this year in Nigeria as health officials struggle to fight various natural strains of the virus as well as outbreaks set off by the polio vaccine itself three years ago.
Kano, in northern Nigeria, has been the epicenter for the transmission of the crippling polio virus to other parts of the world since 2003 when the authorities suspended polio immunization for 13 months.
The suspension followed claims by radical Muslim clerics and some medical doctors that the vaccine was laced with substances that could render girls infertile as part of a U.S.-led Western plot to depopulate Africa.
Dr. Lola Mabogunje, regional field activity director for non-governmental Community Participation for Action in the Social Sector polio project in Kano, says immunization is now
gaining strong support in the region.
"There is an upsurge by WHO [World Health Organization], people are asking why the upsurge? But I can tell you the communities are now renewed. Every mosque now, on Friday they announce the importance of immunization, which is quite impressive. At every naming ceremony they do the announcement and actually pray for eradication of polio. If prayers are offered that polio eradication should succeed that is a new vigor," she said.
In addition to polio and measles vaccines, the children will be given a dose of vitamin A and insecticide treated bed nets. The Nigerian government paid for the vaccines as well as half of the operational cost of about $20 million.
A measles outbreak in the north has killed hundreds of children in the past few months. Health experts blame the outbreak on parents' failure to take their children for routine immunization.
The second phase of the nationwide campaign is scheduled for the southern region in December.