Thursday January 23, 2020

Nigeria Marks Three Years without A New Case of Wild Polio Virus

Nigerian activist Ayuba Gufwan made sure his five children received polio vaccinations soon after they were born

Nigeria, Wild, Polio Virus
FILE - A health worker tries to immunize a child during a vaccination campaign against polio at Hotoro-Kudu, Nassarawa district of Kano, in northwest Nigeria, April 22, 2017. VOA

Nigerian activist Ayuba Gufwan made sure his five children received polio vaccinations soon after they were born.

“I was determined to make sure none of my kids got the polio virus because I am a victim myself,” he said.

Gufwan came down with polio when he was 5 years old. Forced to crawl on the floor, he wasn’t able to attend school for years and faced ridicule.

These days, Gufwan is a popular advocate for the needs of polio survivors. His organization has supplied more than 26,000 locally produced wheelchairs for Nigerians living with the disease.

Nigeria, Wild, Polio Virus
FILE – Health workers walk from house to house in search of children to immunize during vaccination campaign against polio at Hotoro-Kudu, Nassarawa district of Kano, in northwest Nigeria, April 22, 2017. VOA

The government has been working with organizations such as UNICEF, Rotary International, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to train health workers, procure the vaccine and spread awareness. This week, those efforts paid off. On Wednesday, Nigeria marked three years without a new case of wild polio virus.

It’s a status many say is a cause to celebrate, but Dr. Usman Adamu, who helps coordinate the Nigerian government polio eradication operations center, offered a more measured response.

“It’s not a celebration per se,” Adamu said. “It’s just marking the milestone, which is significant in our quest to achieve eradication and, subsequently, certification.”

The next step for Nigeria to be certified polio-free will be rigorous surveillance to see that there are no further cases of the wild polio virus. Nigeria could be declared polio-free as soon as mid-2020.

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Over the last few years, 400,000 health workers have been deployed across the country to administer the vaccine house to house and monitor and spread awareness about it. Since the early 2000s, the health teams have had to dispel misconceptions about the vaccine.

In the language of northern Nigeria, Hausa, polio is translated as shan innah. That conveys the idea that spirits are paralyzing a child’s legs, leaving the child with the telltale symptom of polio, floppy limbs.

Hostility toward the vaccine also came from respected Muslim leaders in Nigeria.

Gufwan, who was part of the awareness campaign, recalled some of the long-standing rumors spread in northern Nigeria, where Islam is the dominant religion.

Nigeria, Wild, Polio Virus
FILE – People stand amid the damage at a camp for displaced people after an attack by suspected members of the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency in Dalori, Nigeria, Nov. 1, 2018. VOA

‘Conspiracy theory’

“Some fundamentalist Muslims rejected the polio vaccine and came up with this conspiracy theory that the vaccine had been adulterated and that it had the potential to sterilize, particularly the girl child, and that it was a calculated attempt by the Western powers to reduce the Muslim population in Nigeria and other parts of the Islamic world,” he said.

The conspiracies led to the suspension of the vaccination campaign in certain parts of the country in 2003. And that led to new cases.

Suspicions intensified again among Nigerian Muslims after it was made known that the American CIA set up a fake polio vaccination drive to track down and kill al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in 2011.

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It took the help of traditional leaders to finally stop the rumors swirling around northern Nigeria.

Alhaji Samaila Muhammad Mera, the emir of Argungu in Nigeria’s Kebbi state, decided to use his role as a traditional ruler to educate his community.

“Anything you think you need to do to change perceptions, to change attitudes, you need to get a messenger that is trusted by the community that you target,” he said.

His state hasn’t had a new case of polio in five years, a drastic change from 15 cases in 2009.

Despite the successes, there are glaring problems. Boko Haram terrorism has made it nearly impossible to reach certain areas in the northeastern region, where an estimated 60,000 children have not been vaccinated.

In 2013, nine polio workers were killed by suspected Boko Haram gunmen.

Another challenge is open defecation. Polio is usually passed through feces. Nigeria has the second-highest open defecation rate in the world, just after India.

But Gufwan said he was hopeful that Nigeria would finally be free of polio. He said it was long overdue but better late than never. (VOA)

Next Story

Pollution-Linked Deaths Highest in India: Study

India Leads World in Pollution-Linked Deaths

Pollution India
India has the highest number of pollution-linked deaths. (Representational Image) Pixabay

 India leads the world in pollution-linked deaths, followed by China and Nigeria, according to a report published Wednesday that estimated the global impact of contaminants in the air, water and workplace.

The report by the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP) found pollution to be the largest environmental cause of premature death on the planet, causing 15 percent of all deaths — 8.3 million people.

Among the 10 countries with the most pollution deaths in 2017, the latest year for which data were available, were some of the world’s largest and wealthiest nations, along with some poorer ones.

India and China led in the number of pollution deaths, with about 2.3 million and 1.8 million deaths, respectively, followed by Nigeria, Indonesia and Pakistan.

The United States, with 325 million people, came in at number seven with almost 200,000 deaths.

India Pollution
An Indian woman crosses a road as vehicles move through morning smog on the last day of a two-week experiment to reduce the number of cars to fight pollution in New Delhi, India. VOA

“The report reminds us all that pollution is a global crisis,” said Rachael Kupka, acting executive director of GAHP. “It does not matter where you live. Pollution will find you.”

Poorer nations

Pollution-linked death rates were highest in some of the world’s most impoverished countries, where poor water sanitation and contaminated indoor air are major killers.

Chad, Central African Republic and North Korea saw the highest number of deaths per 100,000 people (287, 251 and 202, respectively), with India entering the per capita list at number 10 with 174 deaths per 100,000 people.

“India has seen increasing industrial and vehicular pollution from urban growth while poor sanitation and contaminated indoor air persist in low-income communities,” the report said.

On the other end of the scale, five nations in the Arabian Peninsula rank among the 10 countries in the world with the lowest death rates from pollution, with Qatar reporting the lowest.

Drawing its data from the Institute of Health Metrics Evaluation, which is based in Seattle and was founded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the report broke risk factors into four categories: air, water, occupational and lead.

China Daily Life
Pedestrians wearing mask against heavy pollution wait to cross a traffic junction in Beijing, Monday, March 16, 2015. The Chinese capital struggles with persistent pollution tied to rapid growth in number of cars and coal burning power plants powering the ever growing city.(Representational Image). VOA

Air pollution represents a combination of household and outdoor contaminants as well as ozone, while water pollution included unsafe water and poor sanitation.

Occupational, lead risks

Occupational risk encompassed deaths from carcinogens, secondhand smoke, particulates, gases and fumes, while lead pollution deaths were those associated with exposure to legacy emissions from leaded gasoline. This refers to the lead that was deposited, and remains, in the soil from car exhaust.

The report also named ambient air pollution as responsible for 40 percent of all pollution-related deaths, led by China, India and Pakistan (1.2 million, 1.2 million and 130,000, respectively).

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The number of global deaths linked to pollution barely exceeded those from tobacco use, which is around 8 million, but greatly eclipsed deaths from alcohol and drugs, high sodium diets, HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and war, it said. (VOA)