UNICEF announced that 2 cases of paralysis due to polio were reported in Nigeria, in the state of Borno. The news came after Borno was partially liberated from Boko Haram domain, which permitted the assessment of the disease in the area.
Additionally, kids in the region face high levels of malnutrition. UNICEF along with the WHO and the Federal Ministry of Health of Nigeria are preparing for an emergency immunization campaign to eradicate polio from Africa once and for all. But the Islamic State is a significant obstacle to reaching that goal. According to the UNICEF website, the Government of Nigeria and the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed an outbreak of 2 cases of wild poliovirus in the conflicted Borno state. These are the first cases since 2014.
Almost two decades ago, Nigeria had the highest record of the illness in the world, with 1 thousand cases of polio per year. But thanks to the great efforts of million of people, Nigeria had it last case of wild poliovirus in July 2014. And the last case reported in the continent was confirmed in August 2014, which was the last African case, till now.
To declare a region polio-free, the WHO requires three years with no confirmed cases, and Nigeria was almost there.
Due to the war and how isolated certain areas are, it is estimated that these 2 new cases are just the tip of the iceberg. Polio paralyzes only 1 child out of 200 infected, and founding 2 cases means the disease could be everywhere in Nigeria, and more paralyzed children could be out there without being diagnosed.
But not everything is bad news. The fact that these 2 cases were identified means that surveillance is working, even in areas where insecurity is high, said Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman for the WHO.
A setback is no novelty, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday that the new cases of polio are a reminder that efforts to improve surveillance and immunization plans must be redoubled. The CDS stays 100 percent committed to eradicating the disease.
Reza Hossaini, UNICEF Polio Eradication Director, said that the connection between conflict and the spread of polio is undeniable. He added that the 2 children with paralysis mean that the Lake Chad region is now at risk. Hossaini stated that the organization would not stop until every child has been vaccinated against polio.
The Islamic State has declared war against those who vaccinate children against polio. But why?
A few territories in northeastern Borno state were recently liberated from Islamist extremist that have a history of attacking polio vaccinators because they think the immunization efforts are part of an espionage plan from the U.S.
The Islamic State associates vaccination with the CIA since the Agency located Osama bin Laden using a fake vaccination program to gain information about the terrorist leader.
The IS presence in Nigeria is the main reason why the immunization campaign had to stop. Last month, Islamist terrorist Boko Haram ambushed a humanitarian convoy and injured 3 civilians, including a UNICEF worker. The workers step back even when there is severe malnutrition in those territories.
In February 2013, Boko Haram was also behind the attack that killed nine female vaccinators in northern Kano state. They were murdered by gunmen for trying to save children from the paralyzing disease. The attack did not stop the efforts to continue the noble labor of vaccinations in that time.
But the constant war that takes place in Nigeria and other states is the cause behind the new cases. Fights between Boko Haram forces and Nigerian soldiers make it impossible to access certain areas, and vaccination efforts and surveillance had to be suspended.
The New York Times reports that it is believed that the 2 new cases have their origin in a wild polio strain that was last confirmed in Borno State in 2011. If this is true, the disease has circulated the area for 5 years and the number of expected cases rises.
The director of polio eradication for the CDC in Atlanta stated that the flow of people running away from conflict is also a cause of the polio spread. Migration makes it more complicated to understand which population has it and how the condition is moving through Nigeria or the African continent.
The 2 cases of paralysis of polio were discovered in March after the Nigerian Army could recover new areas in Borno from the Islamic State.
Sadly, Nigeria is not the only country that suffers the retaliation of extremist that are against vaccination. Pakistani vaccinators have regularly been attacked, and the number of polio cases has risen to more than 300, which is the highest number of cases in the country. in the last 15 years.
In January, 15 people were killed in Pakistan after a suicide bomber detonated its device in a polio eradication in Quetta. At least 25 people were injured.
The war against vaccination in Pakistan it is even worse than in Nigeria, and the Islamic State is determined to keep fighting polio vaccination workers.