Polio survivors striving for Polio free Nigeria
By Priyanka Khanna
Katsina (State), 1 August 2013 – Polio-stricken since the age of three, 38-year-old Karima Usman struggles to peddle her tricycle with her hands as she navigates the rain-lashed and slushed bylanes of Yamma-II ward of the Katsina Local Government Area (LGA) in this northern Nigerian state.
Usually, riding her tricycle is not so taxing. But the overnight rains have made the non-existent roads in the area murky and harder for her to traverse. Furthermore, her tricycle’s hand break had broken the day before making it even more difficult for her to move in it.
But none of that deters the thin and petite mother of three as she keeps pace with vaccination teams going house-to-house to administer the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) to children under the age of five. If she comes across an open drain that her tricycle cannot cross, Karima either gets off it and walks on her hands or takes a long detour to circumvent the drain.
Her single-minded mission is to convince the parents who are against letting their children take the vaccine that prevents the crippling and potentially life-threatening virus from affecting children.
“No one used to go house-to-house giving OPV when I was small. That is why I got Polio. But now, OPV is available but some parents are not letting children take it,” she says, adding: “I got involved in this work three months ago 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. 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,” says Karima who did just that on day three of the recent five-day immunization campaign to convince Mariyam Mustafa, a mother of three, who would not even open her door for vaccinators but relented when she saw Karima struggle to get off her tricycle and walk on her hands to come to talk to her.
Karima is one of the hundreds of members of the Polio Survivor Group (PSG) which is active in key states of northern Nigeria. From 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 for the same period last year, Nigeria is the only remaining Polio-endemic country in Africa. A sizable number of individuals are against the vaccine, this in spite of the fact that the OPV has prevented nearly 8.5 million Polio cases since 2000 world over.
“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 30-year-old Auwal Bawa who works in another part of Katsina. A Polio survivor, Auwal is the captain of Katsina state Para-Soccer team and like Karima also participates in communication activities between the vaccination rounds like trainings, community dialogues and compound meetings.
“Polio survivors are recording a success rate of 70 percent on an average over the last three Polio immunization rounds. In other words they are able to convince seven out of every 10 parents to accept OPV for their children. Which is remarkable,” says Melissa Corkum, Chief of Polio Communication, UNICEF Office of Nigeria, adding: “As number of cases of Polio have 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 finger marking of children in Sokoto South LGA to ensure that no child is left out when they go out in the market place or playgrounds.
“I call all men to support their wives to bring out their children for immunization. Would we have come out to support this programme if the vaccine had any side effects?” she says, alluding to the fact that more men than mothers are against Polio immunization.
Aliyu adds that it is the passion, the drive and a burning desire to not see another child undergo the pain that they underwent that spurs on Polio survivors as they strive for Polio free Nigeria.