Alkasim Abdulkadir: Nigeria, the last polio frontier (Y! FrontPage)

by Alkasim Abdulkadir

Alkasim Abdulkadir Y! FrontPage

The most potent force against defeating the polio virus has been insecurity; going into the red flag states of Borno and Yobe states has been hazardous to vaccinators.

Nigeria is fighting several battles, on several frontiers, from the insurgency in the North Eastern corner, to the debilitating poverty across the country to the polio virus, which Nigeria happens to be one of three last frontiers in the world. The other two also enmeshed in order similar battles of insurgency and poverty like Nigeria are Pakistan and Afghanistan. Nigeria has taken its fight against polio seriously; in a seeming no retreat no surrender fashion. However, it had always faced some setbacks especially due to ubiquitous socio-cultural and geographical challenges.

The Pfizer, Trovaflaxin debacle in 1996 that left scores of children disabled in Kano State is not one tragedy that will be forgotten soon, as the children who were used as test guinea pigs have been scarred for life. As this incidence gained momentum throughout the Northern states via the electronic media and word of mouth, a large percentage of the population changed their perception with the reinforced thought that vaccination of any type was meant to decimate their children. All sorts of conspiracy theories were bandied about some ranged from the plausible to the mundane. Chiefly amongst them was the theory that said the children will become impotent if they were vaccinated as this was a ploy by Western governments to control the population of the North.

It took the intervention of religious and traditional leaders to personally own and lead the campaigns before the trend could be reversed. This lapse that was created before the intervention ensured that the earlier gains against polio resurgence were lost.

Another factor was the hard to reach areas, geography had conspired against some communities that it made it difficult for vaccinators to access those areas, especially with the increasing desertification in some communities affected by the vicious spread of the Sahara.

The most potent force against defeating the polio virus has been insecurity; going into the red flag states of Borno and Yobe states has been hazardous to vaccinators. This insecurity came to fore in Kano when some vaccinators were gunned down.

Billionaire and Microsoft founder Bill Gates through his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation perhaps has done more than anyone to ensure the sustainable eradication of polio in Nigeria, aside committing resources to the fight, he initiated the leadership challenge. The latter is an award to any of the endemic polio states that can show a great decrease in the spread of the polio amongst children in the state. The state through its partners and programs must also that all stakeholders from care givers, opinion leaders were all involved in the project. The leadership challenge had a cash backing of $500,000 to it. This singular move by Bill Gates led to a huge decrease in the prevalence of polio cases in Nigeria. States like Kogi and Niger witnessed a great improvement in the involvement of stakeholders and also government participation. While the robust commitment and initiatives of Governor Olusegun Mimiko in Ondo State ensured that the state came out tops in the leadership challenge. It is for this great commitment that the federal government of Nigeria honoured Bill Gates with the Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic for being a true commander in the battle against polio in Nigeria.

The coalition against polio in Nigeria is being spearheaded by organizations and partners like the Rotary foundation, Aliko Dangote and the Aliko Dangote Foundation, Mike Adenuga and Mohammed Pate the erstwhile Minister of State for Health, religious leaders and Emirs –they have continued to support the fight against polio in Nigeria. But in a country known for its great rhetoric of paying lip service to issues concerning citizens, it is heartwarming to see the federal Ministry of Health and its agency the National Primiary Health Care Development Agency NPHCDA being focused and dedicated within timelines to defeat polio in Nigeria. It is reassuring the statement of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan that he will not like to hand over the polio epidemic to another government in 2015. With less than 2 years to the expiration of his tenure, it goes to show that against polio –this is a fight to the end.

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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