Aminu, a polio victim speaks out: “Look at me, is this what you want for your child?”
Kano, Nigeria, 30 March 2009 – Forty five years old Aminu Ahmed Umar is among 700 polio victims on the streets of the northern Nigerian town of Kano. Their mission is to team up with vaccination teams to reach every child under five years of age with lifesaving polio vaccine.
Aminu and his colleagues belong to the Polio Victims Association formed in 2000. Their initial membership of less than 100 has increased to over 2000 with branches fully established in Katsina, Jigawa and Kebbi States. Using loudspeakers, megaphones and traditional horns, Aminu leads his colleagues through vehicular and human traffic urging parents to save their children from polio by bringing them out for polio vaccination.
His message is simple and clear – “Look at me, is this what you want for your child?” and adds ‘polio vaccination can protect your child from this” pointing to himself. The group feels that having lost their life dreams to polio, they have personal and moral obligation to help safe Nigeria’s future generation – its children from falling victims to the deadly incurable disease.
Nigeria is struggling to interrupt the transmission of the polio virus in the country and is labeled as one of four polio endemic countries in the world and staggering behind the reduction of polio cases. In 2008, the country recorded 800 polio cases, which accounts for 80 percent of type 1 polio cases worldwide.
Since June 2008, polio virus in the northern Nigeria has spread to Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ghana, Togo and Niger. As at March 6, 2009, a total of 20 States are reporting 68 cases of the virus including two hitherto polio free southern States – Ogun and Lagos.
"A debilitating, dreadful and humiliating disease"
Nigeria’s polio eradication efforts include strengthening routine immunization and planned polio campaigns through rounds of National Immunization Plus Days and Sub-National Immunization Plus Days. The country recently joined seven other West African Countries and implemented a regional synchronized polio campaign from 28-31 March 2009.
An estimated 48 million under five children nationwide were targeted and 60,000 health workers and 30,000 vaccination teams of nine members each were deployed to ensure that every under five child is reached with two precious drops of polio vaccine.
Aminu described polio as debilitating, dreadful and a humiliating disease which must be eradicated to save the children of Nigeria and give them a chance to live life to the fullest. The efforts of Aminu and his group are achieving some results.
According to WHO Nigeria, the polio cases in most northern states such as Kano, Kaduna and Jigawa have reduced in 2009 compared to 2008 with the active involvement of more influencers and more cooperative parents.
Aminu suggests that to build on and sustain the gains made, the attitudes of some vaccinators will have to change. ``Some of the vaccinators don’t even know how to communicate with the people. They usually recruit young vaccinators who are impatient, who do not know how to convince the people and who have little regards for the sensibilities of the people,” adding “they just say, come out we have come to immunize your children”.
He suggests the involvement of older and more matured women who understands the importance of good health for children and who can express such emotions to others in a manner that will encourage them to protect their children against these deadly diseases.
Building the capacity of the polio victims association
With help from UNICEF and other development partners, the Polio Victims Association operates a skill acquisition workshop to produce customized tricycles and wheelchairs. Members are also trained on carpentry, metal work, soap making, pomade making, tailoring and tie and dye. The association also gives out loans to its members to trade on GSM recharge cards.
“We hire able-bodied people who help us to display our products when we finish working on them. We pay them from the proceeds of our sales,” Aminu stressed. He said the target of the association is to establish networks throughout Nigeria to kick polio out of Nigeria.
“We probably do not have the legs to kick polio out of Nigeria; but we have the will and determination to do so. This is for our children, our future and our country,” said Aminu.