In Zamfara, a polio survivor leverages experience to mobilize support for vaccination against the virus
Zamfara, 19 May, 2023 - Mr Ibrahim Mohammed, residing in Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State, northwestern Nigeria was 12 when he contracted the poliovirus.
As a direct consequence, he developed a disability that paralyzed his left leg, affecting his mobility. He now uses crutches to aid his movement.
Ibrahim could not recount the reasons why he did not receive the recommended routine immunization, especially the vaccines against polio, that would have prevented the disease he suffers now.
"Growing up, I remembered receiving only one vaccine and it was at school. I cannot recall my parents taking me for any immunization exercise. I believe that was why I was susceptible to contracting polio.
When the pain started, my parents took me to many hospitals, unfortunately, there was nothing that could be done,” he recalls.
Ibrahim, now 38 years is glad to be alive and does not wish for any child to be in a similar situation as his.
With Nigeria still facing challenges in its polio eradication campaign Ibrahim, in the past 11 years, has been leveraging his polio survival experience to serve as a community mobilizer for polio campaigns and routine immunization in Guasu, the capital of Zamfara State.
He uses his personal history with polio to actively advocate for parents on the importance of immunization. But Ibrahim does not always succeed. At times, his effort in raising awareness of the importance of vaccination to parents fall on deaf ears.
He has in fact contributed to the latest vaccination exercise conducted in the country, aimed at vaccinating over 7 million children against the virus.
The Nigerian Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), is implementing a major national polio vaccination campaign aimed at protecting over 7,2 million children against polio.
The vaccination exercise responds to four cases of circulating poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) reported in 2023, two of which have been reported in the last week in Zamfara and Sokoto, in the northern part of the country.
Nigeria was declared wild poliovirus free in 2020. However, circulating variant Poliovirus type 2 (cVPV2) transmission continues.
In 2022, Nigeria reported 170 cases, and as of May 14, 2023, 22 cases have been confirmed from four states Sokoto, Kebbi, Lagos, and Zamfara. Of which, Zamfara state has recorded the highest cases (seven).
To contain the transmission of cVPV2 by ensuring all children are protected from the virus, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and other partners are supporting the Federal and Zamfara State governments through the National and State Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) to vaccinate over one million children ages 0 to 59 months against the virus.
With funding support from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, WHO with other partners are supporting NPHCDA to pioneer the use of novel oral polio vaccine type 2 (nOPV2) and fractional doses of the inactivated poliovirus vaccine (fIPV), in Zamfara state.
Out of the seven cases reported in Zamfara state, Gusau Local Government Area (LGA), where Ibrahim resides as well as raises awareness for vaccination reported four of the cases
Ibrahim supports that an extensive vaccination exercise is important to stopping transmission of the virus and is glad to educate residents about the need to eradicate all forms of polio in the state.
He is working with a team of vaccinators in ensuring all eligible children in the allocated catchment area in his LGA receive the vaccine.
Leveraging his experience as a mobilizer during the wild poliovirus eradication campaigns, he goes from house to house to convince parents to vaccinate their children against polio because he does not want any child in Gusau to be paralyzed by polio like him.
Ibrahim sometimes feels sad because his paralysis deters him from doing many things, and does not want anyone to experience it.
“Many times my story makes the parents understand the consequences of their children not getting vaccinated. No parent wants their children paralyzed.
But some parents are still not convinced and refused to allow their children to receive vaccination. They won’t accept the polio vaccine saying it will have a harmful effect on their children.
The level of awareness and reception from the community on immunization matters is now better compared to some years back when the parents usually abuse us, stone us or chase us away with sticks,” he says.
Under the Extended National Immunization Programme, oral polio vaccine and inactivated polio vaccine are provided to children across the country as part of routine immunization.
Ibrahim is however optimistic that Nigeria can eradicate the Circulating Variant Poliovirus type 2 (cVPDP2), in the way it eradicated the wild poliovirus.
I feel very proud to be working for WHO and its partners to contribute to eradicating polio in Zamfara State and Nigeria,” he says.
Dr Charles KORIR; Email: korirc [at] who.int
Dr Kofi BOATENG; Email: boatengko [at] who.int