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At a glance: Nigeria

Kano’s 4.2 million children protected from polio

© UNICEF Nigeria/2004/Yahaya
The first drops of vital polio vaccine are given to a child during the launch ceremony of the polio eradication campaign in Kano, Nigeria.
By Gerrit Beger

KANO, 3 August 2004 – The skies are clear and the morning sun is shining as the UNICEF team prepares for the long-awaited re-launch of polio immunization in Kano, Nigeria’s most populous state. After a one-year ban on immunization, the first drops of the vital polio vaccine will be administered to a child during a launch ceremony in Takai, 80 km from Kano city.

Just two drops of polio vaccine are needed for each child – and the need is urgent, in order to stem the rapid increase in the number of Nigerian children infected by polio. So far this year, Nigeria accounts for 430 polio cases compared to 64 in the rest of the world.  Polio from this area has also spread to ten previously polio-free African countries.

In Takai, volunteers and the local police are finalizing preparations for the polio kick-off event.  Around them, children are sitting under mango trees or climbing on them. Others are selling yams or nuts, or running around shoeless, kicking footballs.

Finally the religious and political leaders arrive and take their seats. Members of the Nigerian Children’s Parliament start rolling out their big banners reading, in bright blue letters: ‘A Polio Free Nigeria’.  It is appropriate that children are the ones holding these banners, since children, not adults, bear the brunt of polio.

Parents urged to participate in local immunization campaigns

© UNICEF Nigeria/2004/Yahaya
Parents are relieved that their children will be protected from paralysis caused by polio.
After opening prayers, a UNICEF message is read out, thanking the Governor of Kano, Ibrahim Shekarau, for deciding to restart the immunization campaigns. Next, a representative of the Emir of Kano speaks, asking parents to bring out their children during the campaign. In this traditional society, the word of the Emir carries tremendous weight.

Next, the Governor takes the stand to formally launch the campaigns. Stressing that immunizing children is a sacred duty for all Muslims, he asks those still in doubt about participating in the campaigns to listen to their leaders.  He quotes from the Koran: “Ask those who know, if you are ignorant of something.” Continuing in his own words, he says, “Islamic scholars have confirmed the importance of immunization.”

A star of the show is the Deputy Speaker of the Nigerian Children’s Parliament, 14-year-old Ibrahim Adamu. Bowing to the Governor in the Hausa tradition, he thanks him for permitting the immunization campaigns to begin again, and asks him to continue to protect children against all childhood killer diseases.

And then at last the first polio drops are given, to two children of a high ranking Kano Government official. Many more drops follow, administered by staff of the National Programme for Immunization.

As the immunization teams head out to the villages, parents open their doors, relieved that the vaccine is now available to protect their children from the paralysis caused by polio. By the end of the day, hundreds of thousands of children across Kano have been immunized, with only a few families refusing because of lingering doubts.  Over the next three days, the teams will try to immunize all of Kano’s 4.2 million children against polio.

It’s a great day for Nigerian children and an important step in the final push towards a polio-free world. But much work remains to be done. On 4 September, Nigeria will launch its first full national immunization campaigns since August 2003, with all states participating. These will be followed by synchronized immunization campaigns across 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, aiming to protect 74 million children against the polio virus.

Until polio has been successfully eradicated, all Nigerian parents need to know that there is only one way to protect their children – two drops of oral polio vaccine during all rounds of the upcoming immunization campaigns.

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3 August 2004: The polio immunization campaign kicks off in Kano, Nigeria.

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