By Maimunat Adeomi
I am an advocate for putting measures in place to ensure that the Poliovirus and the several other communicable diseases that plague the under 5 year Nigerians be eradicated. However I do not agree with the notion that parents who refuse to vaccinate their children be prosecuted as this is based on the assumption that parents are totally responsible for this cause of action. A root cause analysis of the challenges is necessary to determine the cause of this problem and seek measures to arrive at solutions via these root causes.
The problem of refusal of vaccines in Nigeria’s polio vaccination as we are well aware occurred in 2003 when the program was stalled for more than a year after Muslim leaders in the North raised doubts over the inoculations’ safety. This led to bans issued by some northern state governments. One leader went so far as to claim that the vaccine was “being used for the purpose of depopulating developing countries, and especially Muslim countries.” Other rumours claimed that the vaccines were contaminated with HIV and caused infertility in Muslim girls.
As Karl Marx quoted centuries ago, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature….. It is the opium of the people”.
Although the opposition to vaccination ended in 2004, the immunization ban led to a resurgence of polio outbreaks within previously polio-free regions of Nigeria, and neighboring countries. More so, during a visit by UNICEF Deputy Representative Jacques Boyer’s to the capital city in 2011, he pointed out that while Nigerian polio cases dropped dramatically — from 338 in 2009 to 21 in 2010 — there had been a recent rise, with 20 cases reported in six months. It was attributed to political unrest during the election period.Data from various reports by the WHO, UNICEF and even medical knowledge on the transmission of the polio virus shows that this is something that is particularly a problem with low-income, low-literacy and poorly sanitized environments and households. Prosecution I believe will not address the underlying issues here. We need to put concerted efforts in dealing with the conditions that have enhanced the spread of the polio virus. We require proper health education, sanitation programs and poverty alleviation measures to battle this crippling disease.
Reports already show that Nigeria revitalized its polio program involving traditional, religious and government leaders at all levels. This effective collaboration has helped the country achieve a 96 percent reduction in polio cases in 2010 compared to 2009. I believe efforts addressing the socioeconomic issues should be integrated into the polio eradication program to allow for a horizontal approach to the problem.
In a recent development, the Sultan of Sokoto speaking through one of the council leaders assured that the polio vaccine was safe, and urged the parents to stop endangering the lives of their children. The Sultan said the council would continue with its relentless efforts to facilitate total compliance by parents, to ensure the eradication of polio in the country. The secretary of Northern Traditional Rulers and Religious Leaders Committee on Polio Eradication also said ’’No side effect of the immunization was recorded since the commencement of the exercise in the country” and that different means to sensitize parents on the importance of the immunization exercise were being employed.
The Director of Primary Healthcare Development Agency in the state called for increased collaboration among the various stakeholders in the exercise to ensure the attainment of the set objectives. He also said that efforts were on to dialogue with parents found rejecting the vaccine. News Agency of Nigeria reported resolution of a case of non compliance in one of the villages through community dialogue employed during the visit with the community members and parents. Not a single case of prosecution or the threat of it was reported. Borrowing this quote from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, I conclude by stating that “Together, we can make sure that no child ever suffers from this tragic, crippling disease ever again. It’s time to commit the necessary resources and take the necessary actions to relegate polio to the history books”.