November 13, 2019

He Opposed Vaccines Until His Son Was Struck Down By Polio in Nigeria

Adamu Misa used to chase health workers away from his home in northern Nigeria but now campaigns for vaccines after his son contracted polio.
His eight-year-old son Buhari went to bed one night healthy and strong. By morning, he had lost his ability to walk. 
Scared, his father took him to a traditional healer, who said an evil spirit had attacked his son, and applied some herbs.
It was not until a neighbor said he suspected Buhari had polio that he was taken to the hospital where an immediate medical intervention saved him from the full effects of the virus.
"He cannot open his fingers fully like me," said Mr. Misa as, five years later, he sits under a tree in their home outside Yola in Adamawa state, north-east Nigeria.

Adamu Misa
Image captionAdamu Misa's first two children were vaccinated while he was not around

He now campaigns for child vaccination, lending his voice and presence to local health workers who face stiff resistance from people against vaccines - or anti-vaxxers - in his community.
"I have seen it on my child so anybody who says anything against vaccination, I will show him practical example with my child," he told the BBC. 
He agreed that there are instances where the body's immune system is able to suppress certain viruses and bacteria, "but some of them may have fallen ill in the past without knowing what the actual cause was".
Polio graph

 Laureta Anaza trains volunteer health workers and believes the influence of religion and tradition is a major factor.
Her group engages in door-to-door advocacy, liaising with religious and traditional leaders to educate parents about the benefits of vaccinating their children.
Though they still encounter anti-vaxxers, they have the strong voice of people like Mr. Misa now supporting them.
"Now I realize my story is not like my father," he said.
"I have practical knowledge of vaccination so I can now tell those who are doubters.
The virus which causes polio is found in dirty water and generally unsanitary conditions. 
In parts of Nigeria, open defecation

practised in water channels that are a source of drinking water, and this is one way in which an unvaccinated child can get infected. 
That is why vaccinations are strongly encouraged. 

What is polio?

  • Polio, or poliomyelitis, mainly affects children aged under five
  • It is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours
  • Initial symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness of the neck and pains in the limbs
  •  One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis. Among those paralysed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilised
  • Today, only two countries - Afghanistan and Pakistan - remain polio-endemic, down from more than 125 in 1988

Nigeria has not recorded any new cases of polio in the last three years and will be declared polio-free if it remains that way by mid-2020. But some people fear the disease may still be lingering on in remote areas where cases are not always officially recorded.
An ongoing struggle against a militant insurgency in the north-east of the country, not too far from Mr. Misa's home in Adamawa state, means that there are some communities that are "inaccessible to health workers", said Aliyu Shetima, a health worker with Unicef.
"I hope we achieve [polio-free status] but in the areas I have covered as a humanitarian worker, we still have a long way to go," he said.

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