Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: Polio Immunization Goes on, Despite Attacks

The Presidential Task Force on Polio Eradication says the recent killing of health workers in two northern states will not stop efforts to rid Nigeria of polio.

In its first meeting since gunmen in separate attacks killed 10 field vaccinators on immunization duty in Kano and three Korean doctors in Yobe, the task force said it would "intensify" efforts to ensure children get immunity to poliovirus.

Chairman of the taskforce and minister of state for health Muhammad Pate said support coming from state governors and families of the victims indicated that attacks "should not deter the good work that is being done to protect the children."

"We will continue to explain the importance of getting children immunised and the protection that is needed for health workers that are out there doing good work and to encourage health workers not to be cowed into submitting to the efforts of those who attack health workers," he said.

"It is difficult but if we don't do anything, more and more children will become paralysed and even die from preventable causes. It is unfortunate but the best course of action for leaders is to do the right thing and the right thing is to continue to immunise our children."

Remorse

Campaigns to reject polio immunization have plagued efforts to get children immunized for years after detractors--including religious leaders--of the polio eradication claimed the vaccine contained medication targeted at reducing population by inducing infertility or sterility.

A religious leader is reported to have spoken against vaccination before the attack in Kano. Days later, two broadcasters with a private station were arraigned over on-air comments they made, which prosecutors believed incited the attack.

Opposition to immunization "has a long history", Pate admitted, but insisted detractors were "having second thoughts" about their opposition.

"Ten years ago they were questions and there were mistakes then in terms of the analyses or whatever it is that gave them that impression.

"The wrong information that was spread at that time, linked to the misinformation that some scholars might have picked up from that have directly contributed in the mistake.

"Those who are affected are now more remorseful and we hope they will come out and start speaking in a different way than they have been previously, because there is no reason why the whole world will try to eradicate a disease and only three countries [Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan] remain."

Changing their minds

A majority of local governments and more than two-thirds of states in Nigeria have stayed free of poliovirus in recent times.

"That message has gotten down to even those who are opposing the campaign in the past and they are changing their minds," Pate noted.

No case of poliovirus has been reported this year, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency said.

Only 122 cases were reported last year--80% of them in suburban areas, scattered settlements as well as along state and international borders.

"What this means is that we are making progress, we are getting there and we cannot afford at this particular point that we are almost there to be distracted," said Dr Ado Muhammad, executive director of NPHCDA.

"This should teach a lesson to those spreading misinformation about the efficacy or safety of the vaccine, because the whole world has spoken with one voice that the vaccine is safe."

World Health Organisation's regional representative, Dr Louis Sambo said the global body would continue its assistance to intensify integrated routine immunization programme to help eradicate polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

Chairman of the Northern Traditional Leaders Forum and Emir of Bama, Kyari Umar el-Kanemi, said traditional leaders would intensify "mobilization efforts to see that we eradicate polio at the end of the target date as promised the world by Mr President and supported by the state governors."

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