Nigeria: Boko Haram Attacks Hinder Polio Drive
By Henry Neondo
ABUJA---The Boko Haram terror attacks in northern Nigeria is fueling circulation of polio and causes the country to be the only country in Africa where polio continues to be source of concern for health experts.
While Chad has made progress also with only three cases this year and a new effort to reach vulnerable nomadic communities, large numbers of children are being missed in northern states of Nigeria, a country regarded as stable and Africa’s powerhouse.
“Ongoing circulation of polio virus in Nigeria is putting millions at risk in neighbouring countries,” said a report by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).
According to the report, neither Angola nor the Democratic Republic of Congo have recorded a single polio case in 2012
Ten years after Europe was declared polio-free, a new report is calling for urgent global action to build on recent progress against the disease, which will otherwise be put at risk by a US$945 million funding gap.
The report, Every Missed Child, is the latest quarterly assessment of IMB and says there is currently a unique window of opportunity to stamp out polio for good, with global cases of the disease at their lowest levels since records began, and limited to fewer districts, within fewer countries than ever before.
“The world has the opportunity to end polio for good, but it will not happen if the programme remains so desperately under-financed” said Sir Liam Donaldson, Chair of the Independent Monitoring Board.
The GPEI’s funding gap of almost US$1bn, out of a total 2012-13 programme budget of US$2bn, means vaccination campaigns for 2012 will have been cancelled in 33 countries, leaving 94 million children under-immunised. In a letter to the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Sir Liam wrote: “This is an extreme and unacceptable risk. It could set this global endeavour back by many years, and vastly increase the eventual cost of achieving eradication.”
The new IMB report focuses on the need to reach the children who are repeatedly being missed by polio vaccinators. In the six countries where polio persists, there are 2.7 million children who have never received even a single dose of polio vaccine.
“These are the children that the world forgot, growing up with no protection from polio at a time when most of the world’s parents have long-forgotten what polio even is,” said Sir Liam.
According to the IMB report, the polio virus is now taking refuge in a number of “sanctuaries”, specific areas of the six affected countries where the virus can multiply and prepare for a fresh attack on the vulnerable. These sanctuaries exist because too many children in them are being missed.
As an example of what can be done, the report singles out the impressive success in India, which, despite being long-regarded as the most difficult place to eradicate polio, was declared polio-free in 2012.
“India’s achievement is nothing short of momentous, and should greatly enhance confidence that polio can be eradicated worldwide,” said Sir Liam.
Just weeks after polio was declared a global health emergency at the 65th World Health Assembly, the IMB said it hoped the resolution passed would rally countries behind polio eradication as a common cause and ‘global public good’. It also said that the Global Polio Eradication Initiative has a great potential legacy that could extend far beyond polio.
“Ending polio is a crucial goal in its own right, but would also lay the foundations for further major global health developments to protect children in the poorest and most inaccessible places”, Sir Liam Donaldson said.