Nigeria Launches Anti-Polio Drive, Hampered By Boko Haram

The first two cases of polio in Nigeria in two years were found in a refugee camp at the beginning of August spurring a massive emergency vaccination campaign. The government aims to reach 25 million children and vaccinated 1.5 million in the past week alone.

Two toddlers with polio were found in a refugee camp for those displaced by the Islamic State affiliate Boko Haram.

A global campaign to eradicate the disease has been underway since 1988. The campaign has driven polio from 122 countries. Just three are remaining: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Previously, the campaign has fought misconceptions that vaccinators wanted to sterilize Muslims as part of a Western plot. Now they are being attacked by Boko Haram fighters.

Although only two cases were found it is feared there are more cases as yet undiscovered. Only 1 in 200 people with polio suffer the paralysis that led to the discovery of the first two cases.

There is also another hurdle however. Campaign monitoring data suggests that only one percent of communities object to vaccination campaigns on religious grounds. Yet community leaders sometimes engage in a practice dubbed “block resistance” where they refuse to receive the vaccine until demands for other services from the government are met.

Desperate to meet targets and under pressure from national administrators, local officials often comply with these demands.

Researchers reported the case of one leader who refused the vaccine until the roof of their local clinic was repaired. Another refused the vaccine for six months until they got electricity. “Seeing the opportunity of the vaccination campaign, we decided to take advantage of it,” he said.

The campaign is a multi-organizational effort including the World Health Organization, The US Center for Disease Control, Save the Children and the Rotary Club’s End Polio Now.

The World Health Organization is confident Nigeria can end polio” International PolioPlus Committee Chair Michael McGovern said in a statement. “The program has overcome outbreaks before, and we have the tools to do so again in Nigeria. Rotary will not stop its efforts to ensure that every child is born into a polio-free world where they are safe from this paralyzing disease.”