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At a glance: Nigeria

Real lives

Nigeria’s rendezvous with a polio-free future

© UNICEF HQ01-0047/Pirozzi
Chioma Okeke, 8, reads her poem to the UNICEF-assisted Atunda Olu primary school for children with disabilities – predominantly for polio victims – in Lagos, Nigeria.

ABUJA, 2004 – Crippled by polio, Umar Sule, 12, Isaac Godwin, 9 months, and Salamu Rabe, 10 months, can only watch other Nigerian children run, jump and play, go to school and lead lives they can only dream about.

The real tragedy is that they are not alone. Surveillance reports as of this month record 72 other Nigerian children who have contracted polio this year. In 2002, there were 202.

Nigeria is one of the last seven countries in the world where the wild poliovirus continues to be transmitted – the others being India, Pakistan, Niger, Egypt, Afghanistan and Somalia. Last year, Nigerian polio found its way into Ghana, causing a child to be paralysed by the disease. This demonstrated beyond doubt that as long as the virus continues to transmit anywhere, no child will be safe.

The spread of the virus in Nigeria is very localized, with intense transmission in the northern state of Kano. Of the 75 cases isolated in 2003, 35 occurred in Kano State; more than three-quarters of these occurring in the metropolitan areas of Kano city. Neighbouring Jigawa state and Benue state (in central eastern Nigeria) are next on the list for polio; in total 15 states have been affected by the spread of the virus.

But there is good news. The success of the global polio eradication initiative has inspired renewed commitment and zeal from the global partners in the campaign and, more importantly, from the Nigerian government.

At a meeting with President Olusegun Obasanjo last july, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, said that the success of the global polio eradication campaign hinged on the success of Nigeria and requested the President’s personal commitment to the eradication drive. Ms. Bellamy said that interest from the highest level would inspire buy-in from authorities at the Federal and State levels.

“We know where the problem areas are, we have the resources. What we need is political support to monitor the campaign and ensure that everyone is doing what they are supposed to do, to ensure that resources are being mobilized, vaccinators are being paid,” Ms. Bellamy said. But, she added, it was necessary to sustain routine immunization across the country to encourage families to accept Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV).

© UNICEF HQ91-0893/Lemoyne
An outreach worker transporting vaccines by motorcycle is greeted by a crowd of cheering children and other villagers as he arrives in a village in the local government area of Ikara, in the state of Kaduna.

President Obasanjo promised the Executive Director that he would personally hold the Ministry of Health and his government accountable for ensuring polio transmission was halted in Nigeria by the end of 2004. “We will do all it takes to ensure that this happens,” he said, and promised to personally promote the National Immunization Days in Kano, scheduled for September, 2003.

Ms. Bellamy took the same message to the State Governors of the 19 states in the north of Nigeria and obtained similar commitments from them. 

This high-level advocacy will greatly boost the efforts of the national social mobilization committee of the Inter-agency Coordinating Committee (ICC) and UNICEF initiatives in Nigeria. UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Dr. Ezio Murzi, has made the polio campaign his top priority. He has conducted an intense advocacy campaign focusing on governors and traditional and religious leaders; streamlined the programme; and applied more stringent monitoring and resource allocation procedures.

Nearly 200 local government social mobilization committees headed by local emirs have been established. Local communities have been integrated into the programme by building on the commitment of the paramount traditional rulers – the Sultan of Sokoto, the Emir of Kano and the Shehu of Borno.

Local committees plan and participate in supplemental immunization activities on a village-by-village basis. Immunization teams, comprising local female vaccinators and village or ward heads acting as local guides, visit houses and immunize children under five years of age.

Town announcers visit the communities in advance and announce the day and time of immunization team’s visit. UNICEF has trained more than 3,000 announcers and provided them with megaphones. They provide information on supplementary immunization activities to the communities and augment the public education campaigns conducted through the electronic media.

Binta Saif and her neighbours have been involved as vaccinators for the last three rounds of immunization in the outskirts of Dutse, in Jigawa State. “We carry our children with us and this has helped the families to better appreciate OPV and accept,” says Ms. Saif.

It is such enthusiasm that inspires confidence that Nigeria may well be the next country to announce victory over polio.




17 May 2004: Watch video on Nigeria’s latest polio campaign.

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