Tuesday September 17, 2019

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

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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

Nigeria, Cameroon Vow to Tackle Terrorism

The Cameroon-Nigeria Transborder Security Committee has as prime objective strengthening border security for both countries. It was created in 2012 in Nigeria

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Cameroon and Nigeria agreed on Friday to take further measures to boost multifaceted cooperation in the fight against terrorism along their shared border. Wikimedia Commons

Nigeria has promised to assist Cameroon in combating the separatist crisis rocking the central African country’s English speaking region. The pledge, made during a security meeting, has been described by Cameroon authorities as reassuring, following accusations that separatist fighters in Cameroon were being trained in Nigeria, and that weapons they use are brought in through the neighboring country.

Brigadier General Emmanuel Adamu Ndagi, leader of the Nigerian delegation to the Cameroon-Nigeria transborder security meeting that ended in Yaounde Saturday, says his country has been seriously affected by the separatist crisis in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon.

The closure of parts of the border has led to a sharp decline in food imports, like sorghum, rice and onions, to Nigeria on one hand, while basic commodities exported from Nigeria, like fuel, are hard to get into Cameroon. Ndagi says because of the security, economic and humanitarian threats caused by the separatist war, Nigeria will support Cameroon in bringing peace to its troubled regions.

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Delegates respect the Cameroon and Nigerian anthem during the Yaounde security meeting in Camerron, July 6, 2019. ( Moki Kindzeka/VOA)

“The current political upheavals in that region will not be allowed to affect our cordial relations,” said Ndagi. “We will continue to support your efforts to bring lasting peace to the region. This will facilitate the return of Cameroonian refugees that have crossed the border into Nigerian territory. We must reduce vulnerabilities along our borders that are being exploited to perpetrate transnational organized crime notably terrorism, proliferation of small arms and light weapons as well as piracy.”

When Cameroon declared war on the armed separatists in November 2017, it said gunmen were attacking border localities in Cameroon’s southwest and escaping to Nigeria, where some of them were trained. Nigeria denied the assailants were crossing over from its territory into Cameroon.

In January 2018, 47 separatists, including Ayuk Tabe Julius, head of a group from Cameroon’s Angolphone regions pushing for a breakaway from the French-dominant country, were arrested in Abuja, Nigeria, extradited and jailed in Cameroon.

Paul Atanga Nji, territorial administration minister and Cameroon’s leader of the delegation to the security meeting, says in spite of the collaboration, the separatists continue to use porous borders to import weapons through Nigeria, making the security situation very uncertain.

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Weapons used by separatist fighters suspected to have been made in Nigeria and brought into Cameroon, June 6, 2019. ( Moki Kindzeka/VOA)

“The security situation along our common borders has all of a sudden become a cause for concern,” Nji said. “These threats take the following forms. Secessionist tendencies, illegal exploitation of natural resources, conflicts between boarder communities, highway robbery, drug and human trafficking, illicit trafficking of fire arms, agro pastoral conflicts etc.”

The UNHCR says that by December 2018 there were more than 32,000 Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria’s Cross River state. Nigeria’s longest international border is with Cameroon. All along the 1,975 kilometer border there are violent crises. Nigeria’s northeast states of Borno and Adamawa continue to have Boko Haram terrorist attacks.

As the Yaounde security meeting was going on, Kildadi Taguieke Boukar, governor of Cameroon’s Adamaoua region that shares a boundary with Nigeria’s Taraba state, announced renewed conflicts with Nigerians escaping farmer-herder clashes to Cameroon.

“There is a conflict along some tribes in Nigeria’s Taraba state. About 100 people from Nigeria flee [have escaped] to our territory around Kontcha division [administrative unit and], there is agro-pastoral [farmer-herder] conflicts,” Boukar said.

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Paul Atanga Nji, head of Cameroon delegation (left) and Brigadier General Emmanuel Adamu Ndagi, leader of the Nigerian delegation (right) in Yaounde, Cameroon, July 6, 2019. ( Moki Kindzeka/VOA)

Nigeria has not confirmed the renewed violence, but confrontations erupted last year in Cameroon’s Adamaoua region between farmers and Nigerian cattle ranchers who had escaped tribal wars in Taraba state.

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The Cameroon-Nigeria Transborder Security Committee has as prime objective strengthening border security for both countries. It was created in 2012 in Nigeria. Cameroon and Nigeria agreed on Friday to take further measures to boost multifaceted cooperation in the fight against terrorism along their shared border.

They did not disclose details of how their cooperation will be carried out, but they said they would share information regularly to stop terrorist activities including Boko Haram attacks and separatists fighting for the independence of an English-speaking sate in Cameroon. They said they would make it difficult for criminals to leave Nigeria for Cameroon and vice versa. (VOA)