On 8th of February, some female health workers who were administering polio vaccines during the National Programme on Immunisation (NPI), were attacked by unknown and yet to be apprehended gunmen at different locations in Kano State.
According to the Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), nine of the women, namely: Sadi Mohammed, Jamila Yusuf, Naja’atuSalisu, Hadiza Ibrahim, RamatuAbdullahi, HauwaAbdulrazaq, BintaSalisu, Rabi Abubakar and Hadiza Ibrahim, died immediately in the attacks, while the last victim, who was seriously injured, died later.
These women were mindlessly murdered, while trying to help to ‘kick out polio’ from Nigeria. To kill harmless women trying to save Nigerian children from polio, an acute viral infectious disease that is maiming and killing hundreds of children, is to say the least quite sad. It is even more pathetic because this disease is now only endemic in three countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.
This heinous and evil crime is not just a setback for the polio eradication campaign in Nigeria but also a great threat to the global polio eradication campaign.
This is because Nigeria is not just burdened by this vaccine preventable health condition but the country is now infamous for been responsible for spreading polio to other countries.
Condemnation has since trailed the killings in Kano. While President Goodluck Jonathan described it as dastard terrorist attacks and ordered security agencies to provide maximum security to health workers engaged in administering polio vaccines to children, the Nigeria Government Forum (NGF) vowed that the killings would not deter the resolve to eradicate the polio virus from the country.
However, this is not the first time polio vaccination is running into troubled waters in the northern part of the country. About ten years ago, there was an uproar in the north based on spurious allegations that the vaccine is contaminated with anti-fertility agents, HIV and cancerous agents. It is clear that this opposition to polio immunisation in the north is a major reason eradicating the condition has been difficult in Nigeria. This opposition should have been properly dealt with then. The implication for not doing that is that, ten years down the line, it seems we are still on the same spot in our quest to eradicate polio. How will this not happen, when we take two steps forward and two steps backward? We are perpetually in motion, without making progress. This is sad and unacceptable.
We believe that, beyond the grandstanding and rhetoric of government officials on this senseless, tragic and barbaric act, the Nigerian government owe it to these fallen and unsung heroines killed, not only to fish out their killers and prosecute them, but to quickly and ultimately eradicate polio from this clime.
It must be stated that it is quite pathetic that, while polio has been eradicated from most parts of the world through successful immunisation campaigns, Nigeria is grappling with opposition to polio vaccines.
A few years ago, India was among the countries with endemic polio. India, however, last year, exited the infamous league, leaving only Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.
The success of India shows that exiting the league of polio endemic nations is not rocket science. The fact that India, a country that is so huge and diverse, can achieve this success, clearly tells us not only that it can be done but also, how to do it.
India owes its accomplishment on polio eradication to consistent and strong political will, backed by local stakeholders and international partners. This is the way to go.
According to Dr. David Okello, the WHO representative in Nigeria, the country “is now the largest contributor of polio burden– nearly60 per cent. Nigeria is also the only country in the world to have all three types of polio virus – Type 1, Type 3, and also circulating vaccine-derived Type 2 viruses.” This is quite shameful.
The Nigerian government must double its efforts on enlightenment to educate Nigerians on the benefits of accepting the immunisation campaign,aimed at eradicating polio and saving children from paralysis and deaths.
The barbaric and mindless killing of the health workers in Kano must, more than any other thing,galvanise this country to eradicate polio. It is perhaps the greatest tribute the nation can pay to them. It is not just the smart thing to do. It is the right thing to do.