WHO deploys Polio personnel to forestall disease outbreaks in Benue state communities affected by floods

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Makurdi, 07 September 2017 - “Sunday the 27 of August is not a day I will forget in a hurry. It was as if the heavens opened their doors and it did not only rain, it poured. Visibility was bad and with the torrential rains, houses shook, roof tops gave way and before you knew it, we were outside in the rain and nowhere to go,” says Mrs. Theresa Ityokyaan a resident of Makurdi.

The record rainfall last week wreaked havoc across the state, leading to evacuation of a large number of the population to temporary shelters. Mrs. Ityokyaan is one of the many displaced persons in Makurdi, the Benue state capital.

According to the Executive Secretary of State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Mr Boniface Ortese, there are over 110,000 persons who have been displaced by the floods in 21 local government areas (LGAs).

Palpable risks to vulnerable populations

With a poor drainage system, muddy waters from blocked gutters submerged several houses. Additionally, there were fears that the dirty water and animal carcasses could lead to disease outbreaks. The crowded population, limited water sources and exposure to rodents and mosquito bites, put communities at risks of various diseases, including cholera and malaria.

In an effort to combat disease epidemics in the affected communities, the World Health Organization (WHO) deployed its Polio infrastructure in the state to intensify disease surveillance and reporting, assess potential sources of infection and engage communities through their leaders to create awareness on disease prevention such as cholera and malaria. WHO LGA Facilitators (LGAFs) working in the camp are conducting active case findings and reporting as well as sensitization of heads of households.

The Permanent Secretary in the State Ministry of Health (SMOH), Dr Joseph Kumba said, “The deployment of these staff is timely”. He stressed that, “all health activities should be strengthened to provide necessary support to the victims”.

Setting up mobile clinics in temporary shelters

With the support from WHO, the SMOH has set up temporary clinics for consultation and treatment of minor ailments. At the clinics, polio workers support the triage of patients for consultation and treatment as well as conducting immunization, social mobilization and surveillance activities in the camp to strengthen the response.

Mr James Osu, a health worker and a polio team ward focal person who is leading the immunization team said “we were mobilized to support the effort here based on our experience in immunization activities”.

Benue polio infrastructure

In Benue, there are 8,957 personnel who support polio eradication activities in the state. The broader infrastructure consists of partnership between the government and development partners, with a reporting system established from the community, LGA and state levels.

Benue has not reported any case of confirmed polio since 2009 but it is at risk of polio importation due to the commercial and social activities between the state and Borno state in North-eastern Nigeria where 4 wild polio viruses were detected in 2016 after almost 2 years without any case.

Dr Fiona Braka, the WHO Nigeria Team Leader for Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) said, “The polio personnel comprising cluster coordinators, LGAFs and field volunteers have the experience and always worked with community leaders to combat disease outbreaks by creating awareness on preventive and control measures including health education”.

WHO will continue to provide requisite technical support to the SMOH and to strengthen partnerships in the state, including with UNICEF, on media and community sensitization in efforts to forestall disease outbreaks.

Support for polio eradication to the Federal Government of Nigeria through the WHO is made possible by funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, European Union, Government of Germany through KfW, Global Affairs Canada, USAID, Community Chest Korea through KOFIH, DFID (UK), Rotary International and the World Bank.

Technical contact:

Dr Fiona Braka; Tel: +234 703 1705 252 ; Email:

For Additional Information or to Request Interviews, please contact:
Ms Charity Warigon
Tel: +234 810 221 0093