In August 21st, Nigeria will mark three years without a single case of polio. This will be followed by an official declaration of a polio-free Nigeria in October. After two months since the three years of being polio-free are marked, the WHO ( World Health Organization) makes an official declaration of a polio-free country. This will be the second time WHO declares Nigeria polio-free, the first time being 2015 when polio was eliminated from Nigeria. However, a 2016 outbreak saw strict measures being taken. One of them is mobilizing mothers to ensure their children are vaccinated. Women did this job and even delivered the vaccines door to door where they administered the drops on the tongues of young children.
In conjunction with UNICEF and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, young mothers have been trained on how to administer the vaccines, especially to young children expertly. It is a taboo for men (except husbands and close male relatives) to enter households in Nigeria. In this regard, the majority of the vaccinators are women. Therefore they can reach the children wherever they are to administer the polio vaccination. This way, good progress can be made in polio eradication.
Mohammad, a UNICEF trained volunteer, attests that not all women would accept their children to be vaccinated against polio. Some are held back by their cultural and religious beliefs. However, each day comes with its set of success stories despite the challenges faced. ”Once we talk to women like Amina, they usually open up. We not only give vaccines … we discuss their fears about the medicine, proper hygiene, and sanitation, and even parental care,” said Mohammad. Together with volunteer community members, ”we send reminders every Monday to all new mothers in the community that there will be a vaccine clinic the following day. We are here every Tuesday.”
Challenges Facing Polio Vaccination
Myths about the vaccines make some of the Nigerians skeptical about this life-saving dose. For instance, the violent militia Boko Haram put forth the notion that the polio vaccine is wrong. In 2013, two Kano volunteer teams were murdered on the grounds of violence by the Boko Haram. Nevertheless, with time, the skepticism has reduced. Today, just one percent of the population miss the vaccine, according to Michael Galway, deputy director of the Polio Team at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Another challenge is the scattered nomadic populations mainly found in Nigeria’s borders. This makes it hard for the vaccinators to cover the entire region. WHO and the Nigerian government are working tirelessly to ensure vaccines are available for people moving in and out of the country. This is mostly in the northern part of Nigeria, which has many nomads.
The devastating effects of polio are what makes everyone work hard to eliminate this menace. According to Alasan Isa, a village head in a small rural community in Nigeria known as Minjibir, sensitizing the people on the effects of polio and mobilizing women to be volunteers and vaccinators goes a long way in making Nigeria polio-free. ”I have seen even how one case of polio can devastate a community. I don’t even want to see polio again …a child with paralytic polio cannot move and often they cannot work in the future. It’s not a way to live.” Isa said.