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Violence delays polio vaccinations

Displaced children living in a makeshift camp in Jos North
(Aminu Abubakar/IRIN)

A polio vaccination campaign in the violence-wracked central Nigerian city of Jos has been delayed until 13 March due to the violence and an on-going health worker strike, aid workers said.

"We needed more time to plan because of the displacement that happened after the previous violence [in January] said Mathew Dabup, the government's polio immunization manager in Plateau State, which includes Jos. 

Dabup has been conducting training for health workers who did not join the strike in Plateau State.

Working with international agencies, the government is running a weeklong regional campaign to vaccinate at least 85 million children in West Africa against polio, a highly infectious viral disease that invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours.

The Nigeria Red Cross has estimated that some 20,000 people were displaced by violence in Jos during January. When asked if the latest violence, which has again displaced unknown numbers and killed hundreds, would disrupt the campaign, Dabup said he hoped the vaccinations would take place as planned. "We have taken into consideration in our ... [vaccination plan] the camps for the displaced, along with the other sites to target."

Violence and polio

Chris Maher, head of country operations for polio eradication at the World Health Organization (WHO), told IRIN: "Implementing vaccination activities in security-compromised areas is both logistically and operationally challenging, and it is obviously more dangerous for the staff working on the ground."

He said strategies in southern Afghanistan and the conflict-affected areas of Pakistan and Somalia included quick campaigns carried out during "lulls in conflict".

In areas like Jos, where there were "periodic acute flare-ups of civil unrest, rather than the constant levels of insecurity", WHO's strategy was to adjust the timing of vaccinations so as to reach as many children as possible while protecting health workers.

"Their dedication to ensuring that all children, even in security-compromised areas, are reached with vaccine and protected from polio, is heroic." he told IRIN.

Two hundred thousand vaccinators are trying to vaccinate 43 million children younger than five, the age group most vulnerable to infection. In Jos the goal is to reach 215,000 children - the official census of under-five children - although the actual number of children is higher, based on the more than 300,000 children vaccinated against polio in December 2009, according to polio manager Dabup.

Nigeria is the epicentre of the current outbreak in the region that erupted again in the second half of 2008. After multiple rounds of vaccinations, in 2009 the number of reported cases in Nigeria fell by half to 387, according to the multi-agency global polio eradication initiative.

Neighbouring countries in West Africa have discontinued polio vaccination campaigns in recent years, making them vulnerable to re-infection during Nigeria's 2008 outbreak. Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo have reported polio cases in the past 12 months.

///Mathew Dabup's affiliation was incorrectly listed as International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in an earlier version of this report. He is with the government's national polio immunization programme. ///


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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