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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 October 2007, 16:12 GMT 17:12 UK
Nigerians try to dampen polio fears
By Andrew Walker
Kano, northern Nigeria

Ismaila Ibrahim, Nasiru Ali and Awolo Ibrahim (left-to-right)
Kano's Para-Soccer team have won three trophies
Aminu Ahmed Tudun-Wada idolises England football striker Michael Owen.

Sitting with friends in Kano, northern Nigeria's largest city, he says, "With those legs, he can do anything!"

Aminu's own legs lie crossed and shrivelled underneath him, all feeling taken by polio.

It pains him that children in Nigeria are still catching the disease that crippled him at the age of three.

But polio did not stop Aminu from following his football dreams. At 47, he is the coach of the Kano Para-Soccer team, a 14-strong squad made up of polio sufferers.

They play by swatting the ball with their hands and scoot around on roller skates fixed to planks.

Aminu proudly says, "Our captain Awolo is known as 'the director', he models himself on David Beckham!"

Awolo (l) and  Aminu (r)
Aminu (right) campaigns to improve polio inoculations
They have won three trophies, and competed in the Para-African Nation's cup last year.

Aminu, a welder and carpenter who runs a workshop with other polio-struck artisans, accompanies immunisation teams organised by a partnership of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Nigerian government, the American Centre for Disease Control, children's charity Unicef and the charity Rotary International.

"If the parents refuse," Aminu says, "I go in and say, 'Do you want your children to end up like me?' They usually change their minds."


He is part of a scheme to improve inoculation in northern Nigeria after a year-long boycott of vaccinations saw the numbers of new cases explode.

Highly infectious disease that is caused by a virus
Attacks the nervous system, initially causing fever, tiredness, headache and vomiting.
One in 200 cases causes permanent paralysis - most often in the legs
Out of these as many as 10% of cases are fatal
The virus affects mostly children under five
There is no cure but there are a number of highly effective vaccines

In 1990, health experts said eradicating polio, the paralysing virus spread by sewage-infected water, was possible within 15 years.

But in 2003, the Kano State government backed Islamic clerics who said they believed vaccinations were a plot to make Muslim women infertile.

Almost immediately cases emerged in neighbouring countries thought to be free of polio.

The authorities, with the help of people like Aminu, have regained the trust of some of the population. This year, new cases of the wild polio virus dropped considerably.

By August only 198 cases were recorded across 21 states. For the same period in 2006, there were 945 cases recorded in 18 states.

But now these achievements are under threat.


A new strain has emerged: it is a rare, mutated form of the virus which comes from the vaccine.

At least 69 children have been infected between 2006 and 2007, by this vaccine derived polio virus or VDPV.

Dr Ameen Al-Deen Abubakar
Where is our government in all this?
Dr Ameen Al-Deen Abubakar
Islamic cleric
Experts at the WHO say the boycott caused this problem. Not enough people have been vaccinated and are vulnerable to the new mutated strain.

After the outbreak was revealed at a conference in Washington in September the WHO said people must be informed of the new risks and persuaded to immunise their children.

But the Kano State government is trying to prevent the public from finding out about it.

The state commissioner for health, Aisha Isyaku Kiru, said many people are illiterate and do not trust medicine.

They refused to release any more details about the outbreak other than saying it is thought to come from one source and 39 cases are in Kano city itself.

"If it comes out," she said, "and people believe the vaccine causes the virus and can even infect other people, do you think that they will go and get vaccinated again?

"They will not. They will not do as they should and go and clean their environment, they will blame the vaccine."

Blocked sewers

The vaccine is given to children in a little drop on the tongue.

The outbreak is blamed on poor sanitation

It passes through the gut and can be picked up by people who come into contact with sewage infected water.

In countries with successful inoculation programmes this is not harmful, but according to the WHO, two years ago the virus mutated in a blocked sewer or pit latrine and regained its virulent nature.

The Kano government says it is investigating how and where the outbreak started, but says the investigation will take months.

This is the biggest such outbreak the world has yet seen.

Dr Ameen Al-Deen Abubakar, a cleric who supported the boycott before being convinced by the WHO the vaccine was safe, said the state government was mostly responsible for the problems it faced.

"We should thank our foreign friends for coming to help," he said.

"But we should ask, where is our government in all this? If this came about because of unsanitary conditions, isn't that the government's responsibility?"

UN launches key anti-polio push
08 Oct 04 |  Africa

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