|© UNICEF Niger/2006|
|Sanoussi, 4, once walked and ran like other children. He has had to revert to crawling since contracting polio. Money is needed to help provide rehabilitation services for children like him.|
By Marlene Barger and Natalie Fol
As of January 2006, Niger is no longer a polio-endemic country. Mass polio immunization campaigns are continuing in order to consolidate the achievement and stop importations of the disease from neighbouring Nigeria. But in addition to vaccination, rehabilitation services are needed for children who have already contracted polio – children like Sanoussi.
MARADI, Niger, 10 March 2006 – Four-year-old Sanoussi was healthy and active, until one day he suddenly couldn’t move his legs anymore.
“He used to enjoy running and playing with his friends,” says his father. “Then one day he came down with a high fever. At the health centre, the nurse examined his legs and then called in other medical workers to take a look.” Test results confirmed their worst fears: Sanoussi had contracted polio.
Sanoussi, his parents and seven siblings live in the tiny village of Dan Takobo. Located in Niger’s Maradi region, the community is less than 20 km from the Nigerian border.
This heavily-travelled region records most of Niger’s polio cases. Yet there are currently no rehabilitation or social integration services in the area for children affected by polio.
Sanoussi’s situation after his diagnosis gave little hope that he would ever walk again. His once active legs were flaccid and twisted – rendered useless by polio.
Now, one year after being infected, Sanoussi’s knees show thick calluses, formed as he learned to crawl instead of walking.
“Starting rehabilitation within the first six months of diagnosis is crucial,” says Boubacar Kandagomni, Physiotherapist at PRAHN, a non-governmental organization serving people with disabilities in Niger. “When children with polio begin treatment soon after the onset of the disease, the handicapping effects can be minimized and even overcome.”
Unfortunately, Sanoussi didn’t get the early treatment he desperately needed. In parts of Niger, rehabilitation services are simply not available. Even where they can be found, the cost is beyond the reach of many families.
Hope to walk again
“Sanoussi likes to be with children his age,” says his father. “When they go out to play in the streets, he crawls along behind them.”
Sanoussi is not satisfied with merely crawling. His father describes how the little boy struggles to pull himself into a standing position on his weakened legs. “He often asks his mother and me to help him stand up. I guess it’s like a game for him.”
The clock is ticking for Sanoussi and nearly 170 other young polio victims. “Delays in treatment mean increased costs in rehabilitation with less satisfactory results,” says Boubacar Kandagomni. UNICEF Niger is seeking $269,000 to help bring medical treatment and rehabilitation programmes to children who need them. If the funding comes quickly, doctors believe Sanoussi may still have a chance to one day walk and play like any other children.
Years of nationwide immunization campaigns supported by the Government and the partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative have led to Niger’s removal from the list of polio-endemic countries. The 10 polio cases reported in 2005 were all the result of importations from Nigeria.
Sanoussi was one of the 25 children who contracted polio in 2004. Even if polio never returns to Niger, his story may be a sad one, unless he gets the rehabilitation and treatment he needs.