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At a glance: Nigeria

The driving forces behind Nigeria’s fight against polio

Hauwa Abubakar - A volunteer for the National Immunization Day
© UNICEF Nigeria/2004/Yahaya
Hauwa Abubakar volunteers during the National Immunization Day with her little baby Muktar in her arms.

KANO, 20 November 2004 - Hauwa Abubakar is 25 years old and a mother of three children. She lives with her family in Kano, Northern Nigeria. On a Saturday Hauwa leaves her home early in the morning. Her destination today is the Bamali Nuhu Medical Center and Hospital.

When she arrives at the medical centre no one is there. With her youngest child, little Muktar, strapped on her back and shielded from the harsh harmattan cold, waits for the polio immunization officers and vaccinators. They will soon arrive and start preparation for the fifth round of the polio immunization, which kicks off that day.

Curiously, Hauwa is neither one of the 43 immunization officers, nor the 130 vaccinators or even one of the 24 local guides. She is an unsolicited volunteer committed to the eradication of polio in her community. Hauwa came to appreciate the importance of the immunization because she has seen first hand the damage that polio does.

“I saw this child crawling and looked at my first child Aisha playing joyfully around,” recalls Hauwa. “I compared the two and thought that every child should grow up healthy and happy. That’s why I become a volunteer,” she explains.

As the immunization officers and vaccinators arrive, Hauwa, now a familiar face, mingles and chats with them. She eventually finds the team assigned to Kan Karoshi ward which is not too far away from her home. She helps carry the vaccine bags with little Muktar in her arms:  “I am here simply to help. I will go all the way with them, from house to house to help convince the mothers to allow their children to be vaccinated against polio!”

Mallam Hassan Mohammadu - A community mobilizer

© UNICEF Nigeria/2004
Mallam Hassan Mohammadu goes from door-to-door to persuade parents to let their children get immunized against polio.
KURIGA, 4 February 2005 - Mallam Hassan Mohammadu wriggles when you ask his age. He will gesture and smile at you. He suggests that he is about 60 years old. Then, he remarks that he is definitely over 60 years. Finally, he says that he is actually 65 years old.

If you ask Hassan Mohammadu about the status of the polio campaign in Kuriga District and its surroundings areas however, he will be resolute. He knows firmly from his experience as a social mobilizer that the days of polio in the area are numbered.

Kuriga district comprises about 22 villages.  A case of wild polio disease was discovered in early 2004. Hassan Mohammadu was a social mobilization officer during the last two rounds of National Immunizations Days in October and November 2004. During that time, he went from village to village and house to house to advocate and enlighten the public on the safety of the Oral PolioVaccine.

Ignorance has been the biggest factor in the rejection of the vaccine by some families. Religion and political affiliations have also influenced people in the region.  Hassan Mohammadu educates village chiefs so that they will be in a position to educate their communities and provide important information on the polio vaccine.

He even keeps a complete record of each community he visits with the date and distance he covered by bike. He knows virtually every soul in the district.

This is an important year, as Nigeria aims to stop the transmission of the wild polio virus. It’s certainly not a small job as the country has a total of 748 cases reported in 2004 (as of December 21), and accounts for almost 70 per cent of the global wild polio virus cases. But with the support and commitment of people like Hassan Mohammadu, the challenge to eradicate the virus in 2005 should be met.



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