CDC Maintains Vigilance to Eradicate Polio in Northern NigeriaPosted on by
Vaccines save lives. Today, millions of children have a chance at surviving and living healthy, productive thanks to the introduction and increasingly widespread use of vaccines against major diseases that cripple and kill children over the last few decades. These diseases include polio, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, influenza and measles.
The essence of our work could be seen in CDC’s commitment to eradicate polio and reduce other vaccine-preventable diseases among children in Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa. More children are surviving and the country is closer than ever to eradicating polio. I am fortunate to be part of the Global Immunization team here at the CDC contributing to this important work. As a member of the coordination team, I served many roles – some in the frontline, but mostly behind the scenes. During our time in Nigeria, CDC staffers and partners helped troubleshoot immunization activities, and educate caregivers to gain a better understanding of the immunization process, participated in logistics planning, enhanced community engagement, and strengthened health camps that provide other basic health care services, including vitamin supplements. The most important element of the work, however, comes in the evening. When others are taking the time to unwind, thousands of polio workers are reviewing their activities from the day and take those lessons learned to determine how to better implement their plans for the next day.
But significant challenges remain.
In August of 2016, after two years without a reported case, there were reports of four new polio cases in Northeast Nigeria’s Borno State. Insurgency-related conflicts in this region caused the destruction of the health care system, making basic health care services, including access to life-saving vaccines, unobtainable. Humanitarian emergencies led to hundreds of thousands of people fleeing their homes and disrupted immunization activities. Unfortunately, for the children left in areas controlled by insurgents, polio workers have great difficulty accessing and vaccinating them. On occasion, the Nigeria Polio program works with the military to access security-compromised areas, and in extreme cases, determines how to provide remote support for the few members who had access to conflict-affected regions and develops alternative strategies to reach the children in these regions.
The good news is that access to these children is gradually improving. We are learning how to potentially improve vaccination in conflict settings such as Borno. CDC’s contribution to the polio eradication effort in Nigeria yielded substantial results thanks to its partnerships with the Nigerian government and other agencies. As a result, millions of children in cities, towns and villages – even those in places that had never been reached by health workers – received vaccines that protect them from polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases. I know that, together with other global health and humanitarian agencies, we will continue finding ways to reach and vaccinate children in conflict-affected regions and elsewhere until polio is eradicated.
Read more in this week’s MMWR.