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At a glance: Nigeria

Polio survivors strive for a polio-free Nigeria

© UNICEF video
UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on a campaign in Nigeria to vaccinate children against polio.


Meet three of the polio survivors on a mission to ensure every last child, everywhere, in Nigeria be vaccinated against polio.

By Priyanka Khanna

KATSINA STATE, Nigeria, 6 August 2013 – Karima Usman is 38 years old. Today, she struggles to peddle her tricycle with her hands as she navigates the rain-lashed bylanes of Yamma-II ward of the Katsina Local Government Area (LGA) in this northern Nigerian state.
Ms. Usman contracted polio when she was 3 years old. Usually, riding the tricycle is not so taxing. But, rains overnight have sopped the paths in the area. And her hand break has broken, making it even more difficult to manoeuver.

But this mother of three powers on, keeping pace with vaccination teams going house to house to administer the oral polio vaccine (OPV) to children under the age of 5. If she comes across an open drain that her tricycle cannot cross, she gets off and walks on her hands, or she takes a long detour around it and finds the path again.

A woman on a mission

Ms. Usman is dedicated to convincing parents who are against the vaccine that it prevents the crippling and potentially life-threatening virus from affecting children.

© UNICEF Video
Fatima Aliyu, who has two children of her own, with a child who has received the polio vaccination. A polio victim, herself, Ms. Aliyu is dedicated to eradicating the disease in Nigeria, one of just a few countries left that is polio endemic.

“No one used to go house to house giving OPV when I was small,” she says. “That is why I got polio. But now, OPV is available – but some parents are not letting children take it.

“I got involved in this work three months ago,” she adds, “and I will not rest till every parent agrees to get their child vaccinated.

“Most people get convinced easily when they see my condition and realize what poliovirus can do,” continues Ms. Usman. “But then there are some who are totally non-compliant due to spread of misinformation and myths and don’t even come to the door to talk to me.

“I don’t give up. I get off my tricycle and walk on my hands and go inside their houses to talk to them.”

Debunking myths

Ms. Usman did just that on day three of the recent five-day immunization campaign. Mariyam Mustafa, a mother of three, would not open her door for vaccinators, but she relented when she saw Ms. Usman struggle to get off her tricycle and walk on her hands to come to talk to her.

Karima Usman is one of the hundreds of members of the Polio Survivor Group (PSG) active in key states of northern Nigeria. Since the start of this year, social mobilizers have been engaging PSGs more systematically in the polio eradication initiative in Nigeria. With 40 confirmed cases of polio so far in 2013, a drop of 33 per cent from the same period last year, Nigeria is the only remaining polio-endemic country in Africa.

A sizable number of individuals are against the vaccine, in spite of the fact that the OPV has prevented nearly 8.5 million polio cases globally since 2000.

“I tell people that my ability lies in my mind. And it is the mind that they need to listen to and accept OPV and not false rumours,” says Auwal Bawa, 30, who works in another part of Katsina. Also a polio survivor, Mr. Bawa is the captain of the Katsina State para-soccer team and, like Ms. Usman, participates in communication activities between the vaccination rounds such as training, community dialogue and compound meetings.

© UNICEF Video
A child is vaccinated against polio in Sokoto State. According to Ms. Aliyu, it is the passion, the drive and a burning desire not to see another child suffer the pain that they underwent that motivate polio survivors like her as they strive for a polio-free Nigeria.

Striving for a polio-free Nigeria

“Polio survivors are recording a success rate of 70 per cent on an average over the last three polio immunization rounds,” says Chief of Polio Communication of UNICEF Office of Nigeria Melissa Corkum. “In other words, they are able to convince seven out of every 10 parents to accept OPV for their children. Which is remarkable.

“As the number of cases of polio has decreased over the years, the PSGs serve as a stark reminder of what the virus can do – and help in overcoming non-compliance.”

In Sokoto, another state struggling with non-compliance, Fatima Aliyu, a polio survivor and mother of two, can be seen checking the finger marking of children in Sokoto South LGA to ensure that no child is left out when the team goes out in the market place or playgrounds. 

“I call all men to support their wives to bring out their children for immunization,” she says, alluding to how more men than mothers are against the vaccinations. “Would we have come out to support this programme if the vaccine had any side effects?”

Ms. Aliyu adds that it is the passion, the drive and a burning desire not to see another child suffer the pain that they underwent that motivate polio survivors like her as they strive for a polio-free Nigeria.   



UNICEF Photography: Reaching every child

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