On February 8th 2013, seven health workers carrying out routine polio immunization exercises in Kano State, Nigeria were murdered by unknown gunmen. Another two were killed in Borno State within the same period, whilst performing the same task. This is coming on the heels of the deaths of a number of health workers in far away Pakistan as well. This has attracted national and international angst and condemnation. Even before this worrisome turn of events, there have verified accounts of harassment of health workers carrying out this national duty and in some cases, many had been refused access to children in the target age bracket, in Northern Nigeria. The reasons adduced for this stance range from fears that the polio vaccines and other medicines engender sexual infertility to beliefs that the Western world and its ways should be resisted by a predominantly Muslim north.
However, a deep scrutiny of these unfortunate events will reveal interplay of factors and forces that do not portend well for the future fortunes of Nigeria and the world at large.
For one, while the polio scourge has been eradicated in most parts of the world, a recent release by the World Health organization (WHO) has listed Nigeria, Pakistan and a number of other nations as places where the resurgence of the affliction is gaining ground once again. Especially in the Northern Nigeria, where hundreds of children are rendered incapacitated and hence become a burden on economic resources and assume a stigmatized existence. As a result of this recent classification, certain countries now require Nigerians to present relevant proofs of health vaccinations as a prerequisite before entry visas are granted.
This writer is of the opinion that the buck stops with our leaders, at the local, state and federal levels. Those documented past incidents should have galvanized relevant authorities in taking proactive action before any immunization projects are embarked upon. Measures that readily come to mind include an aggressive enlightenment campaign at the grass roots level, to highlight the importance of these medications for the survival of our children. As well as the provision of adequate security to escort health workers on their rounds. In addition the latest attacks seem to be the brain child of a masked group of highly placed individuals, who thrive in an atmosphere of turmoil and insecurity, for their selfish gain, individuals that must be exposed and brought to justice.
The fight to rid the nation of killer childhood diseases cannot be treated with sleight of hand and all must be done to ensure that the future and health of our children are not stunted at such an early stage of their lives. It is therefore absurd that these diseases are being aided by unfounded beliefs and terror attacks! While we commiserate with that the families and friends of the victims who are national martyrs, we implore the relevant security agencies to leave no stone unturned, in finding and bringing the perpetrators of these heinous crimes, to book.