Crowds turn up for polio vaccinations in Nigeria’s north-east

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Mothers wait to get their children vaccinated at the Kachalla comprehensive health centre in Maiduguri, north-east Nigeria © Unicef Nigeria

By Patrick Moser

In Nigeria’s Borno and Yobe states, a major polio vaccination campaign is being carried out by state governments and partners, including UNICEF. Residents are also being provided basic health care services, including treatment for malnutrition.

ABUJA, Nigeria, 26 June 2014 – Young women hold their little ones as they sit patiently on wooden benches, waiting their turn at a health camp that provides polio vaccination and much-needed health care in north-eastern Nigeria, where increasing violence has led to displacement of local populations.

Many of the patients at the clinic in Bolori, a ward in Borno’s state capital of Maiduguri, have fled the violence, and quite a few of them show signs of malnutrition.

The health camps have been set up with UNICEF support as part of a major polio immunization campaign in Borno and Yobe, which have been worst-affected by violence.

Covering basic needs

Across the two states, health workers set up makeshift stands – sometimes just a few mats set out in the shade of a tree – to provide vaccinations to children, as well as basic health care services, including treatment for malnutrition.

Many of the children leave with smiles on their faces as they clutch the sweets they are given. Grown-ups receive soap, sugar and instant noodles, and medicines for those who need them.

In assisting Nigeria’s National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) and local authorities to run the campaign, UNICEF has sent more than 1,000 basic health care kits for use at the health camps, enough to cover the basic health needs of more than 400,000 people.

One woman said the health camps are the only place mothers like her can get drugs to treat malaria, skin infections and diarrhea. “God bless UNICEF,” she said with a smile.

Well and strong

The vaccination drive, which runs for six days, is part of a wider campaign targeting all under-5 children in 14 northern states.

Volunteers have been going door-to-door to let residents know they can get their children vaccinated and receive free treatment and medicine at the health camps.

One mother said she took her children to be immunized “because I heard that they will be protected against disease”. The woman, who declined to give her name, added, “I want my children to be well and strong.”

Major progress

Nigeria, one of three countries – with Afghanistan and Pakistan – where polio remains endemic, has made major progress in battling the disease. The number of confirmed cases has dropped from 122 in 2012 to 53 in 2013, and three so far this year.

But continued violence and instability in the region pose a major threat to the government’s goal of stopping transmission in Nigeria this year. Nearly 50 per cent of the polio cases in 2013 were from Borno and Yobe, where some areas could not be reached because of insecurity.

During a polio vaccination campaign in May this year, more than 295,000 children, or 18 per cent of the under-5 population, could not be immunized in Borno because they live in inaccessible areas. In Yobe, access improved significantly, and only 9,343 children, or 1 per cent, were not reachable.

Insecurity in the region has escalated since 2013 . Numerous health facilities have been destroyed and health workers have been killed, forcing some local doctors to flee. As a result, access to health care has become even more difficult.

But wherever possible, immunization campaigns are held regularly, with strong involvement from the community, including polio survivors and religious and traditional leaders.

UNICEF continues to collaborate closely with the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International and other partners in the final push to achieve the global eradication of polio.