BORNO GOVT'S INCENTIVE AGAINST POLIO
•Some polio victims
Immunize your child against polio, get a wrapper. That seems to be the refrain on the lips of government officials in Borno State in recent times. And indeed, when a woman immunizes her child in the state, she gets a couple of gift items, including a wrapper, toiletries and consumables.
This is the campaign incentive of the State Special Task Force on Immunization against Poliomyelitis (Polio), a body established by the government as the campaigns for the 2012 round of Immunization Plus Days kick off.
Daily Sun gathered that the provision of incentives to children and mothers was part of the recommendations of the Communication and Strategy unit of the World Health Organization (WHO) to encourage women to immunize their children up to five years old. This approach was deemed necessary, as many were unwilling to allow their children take the polio vaccine.
'Our children are always running away each time they see the vaccination officials with their bags (immunization kits),' Hajja Amina, a mother of five disclosed.
Apart from the erroneous belief about the polio vaccine, there is also the problem of the fear of the unknown caused by the prevailing security situation in the state, as most parents would not want their children to come out of their homes or mix unnecessarily with people whose identity could not be easily verified.
But beyond the security challenges lies the big threat which is capable of causing more havoc on the future of the state, since children are regarded as the future of any society.
A recent survey by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that throughout the world, polio still exists in just three countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. Sadly, Nigeria remains the only African nation on the polio list even as India has successfully kicked out the viral disease a year ago. Curiously, the eight states listed as risk areas in the country are in the north, with Borno having eight cases out of the 56 recorded cases of the wild polio virus.
The State Commissioner for Health who also co-chairs the state Special Task Force on Polio Immunization, Dr (Mrs) Salamatu Anas Kolo corroborated the WHO Polio index last week at the flag off of the February 2012 Round/Community Leaders Sensitization in Bama, east of Borno State.
According to Dr Kolo, 'Polio Virus is still in circulation and of the 56 total cases recorded, eight of them are from Borno. Eight local governments recorded wild Polio Virus and are classified as the high risks LGAs.' She highlighted the affected local government areas, mostly in Borno north and centre which unfortunately are educationally disadvantaged with high level of poverty.
These local governments include Jere, Damboa, Marte, Kukawa, Abadam, Mobbar, Kala-Balge and the Maiduguri Metropolitan Council (MMC), which incidentally is in the state capital. The most recent case, she disclosed, was detected in Kawuri ward in Konduga Local Government area where a two-and-half-year-old girl, Aisha was diagnosed with acute paralysis caused by polio.
Daily Sun learnt that the birth of little Aisha had brought joy into the family like every other child born before her, but her mother had failed to present her for the routine immunization against polio. Sources said no sign of serious illness manifested in her early period of growth until recently when she was discovered to be suffering from acute paralysis after weeks of diagnosis. The commissioner said Aisha's case was just one of 200 girls and boys who are at risk of the severe infectious viral disease.
'There is no doubt that we still have challenges in the state, especially in the area of non-compliance,' the commissioner noted.
She asserted that, in addition to non-compliance by parents, other challenges confronting the state government in its determination to eliminate polio from Borno include poor delivery of the polio vaccines, missed children and inadequate team performance, weak routine immunization and ineffective outreach activities.
With the involvement of the traditional rulers to boost immunization campaign and sensitize their communities on the need to take the vaccines, a lot of improvement is expected in the affected areas. Already, the traditional rulers led by the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Umar Garbai El-Kanemi have assured of their support. The Shehu, in his remarks, urged the people not to accept those propagating the view that polio vaccine is dangerous, even as he maintained that such views are not true. 'Take your children for immunization. It is good. It is safe,' he counselled.
The state governor, Kashim Shettima said it was sad that polio is a northern Nigeria problem, noting it was more sadden that the disease is mostly found in the north western and eastern parts of the country. He attributed the ugly development to the negative view of the people about polio immunization, even as he said there was no correlation between polio vaccine and family planning. He assured that polio would soon take a flight from all the local government areas and communities in the state.
It is, however, doubtful if the disease would be eradicated soon as promised by the governor. His late arrival, five hours behind the scheduled time for the flag off could send a wrong signal, not only to the children who had waited for hours in the scorching sun, but to their parents. There also appears to be a lack of synergy among the coordinating bodies for the polio immunization campaigns. While the traditional rulers have promised and demonstrated their readiness to be fully involved in the campaigns to make the state polio free, the absence of team work among government officials in the state health ministry and other international agencies fighting the viral disease still remains a sore point of the campaigns.
Journalists are also complaining of being put in the dark by the government. Reporters insist that they have little knowledge of the activities of the state task force while the radio, known for its effectiveness in grassroots mobilization, was under-utilized.
But is Borno truly about to be liberated from the debilitating grip of Poliomyelitis? Will the children soon start singing songs of praise as the dreaded disease is finally eradicated from the state?
Time will surely tell.