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How Terrorism Has Thwarted Efforts to Eradicate Polio in Nigeria

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A Nigerian schoolboy is vaccinated against polio during a mass nationwide polio inoculation April 12, 2005, in Kano, Nigeria. (Chris Hondros/Getty Images)
A Nigerian schoolboy is vaccinated against polio during a mass nationwide polio inoculation April 12, 2005, in Kano, Nigeria. (Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

 

After officials recently celebrated the eradication of measles in the Americas, the fight against one highly curable infectious disease has suffered a setback. Polio was recently redeclared an epidemic in Nigeria. While the worldwide campaign to vanquish the disease once and for all has never been closer to its goal, the fight against polio has hit a bump in the road in Nigeria due to the threat of Boko Haram extremists.

Terrorism in northern Nigeria has a multifaceted effect on the polio vaccination campaign. In 2003, many imams in the Kano and Borno states began preaching against the vaccinations, claiming the vaccine was tainted and would harm children. The claim gained some credence after the 2001 assassination of Osama bin Laden, when it was revealed that the polio vaccination campaign in Pakistan had been a CIA ruse to confirm bin Laden’s identity. At their height in 2014, Boko Haram controlled much of the country’s north, where many people were unvaccinated, and blocked access to treatment for many patients that were afflicted. The violence created mass migrations that spilled over into the bordering countries of Chad, Cameroon, and Niger. This mass exodus is now raising fears that the disease could spread wider before health organizations can stomp it out.

 

Out of the 27 global cases of polio recorded so far this year, four were in Nigeria. It’s a country where the disease has never been fully eradicated, and health officials believe they have been on the precipice of full eradication for quite some time. Organizations were anticipating Afghanistan and Pakistan (the only other places where the disease still exists) to be the final two countries reporting active cases of Polio, but many fear the recent spate in Nigeria could spread throughout West Africa.

For more information on this topic, read a full investigation by  here.