Polio is back in Nigeria at the same time that the World Health Organisation, (WHO) is embarking on a Yellow Fever campaign in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.T
The conversation newsletter describes it as the largest of such emergency campaign against yellow fever in the history of WHO. A piece by Jacqueline Weyer in the newsletter notes the outbreak of yellow fever in Angola and the DRC from which over 400 have been reported dead since December 2015. According to the piece, the United Nations plans to reach 14 million people in a campaign the author describes as one of the largest vaccination efforts to contain an ongoing outbreak ever undertaken.
More than 10 million people are said to have been vaccinated in Luanda and other affected areas of Angola since February and no new cases have been recorded in July and the first weeks of August. The concern is to contain both the situation in Angola as well as position against the rainy months, suggesting that the rains and yellow fever spread go hand in hands.
As to what it takes in terms of the logistics to vaccinate 14 million people, Weyer’s piece puts it to: The World Health Organisation is co-ordinating more than 50 global partners to contribute to the vaccination drive on various levels. It includes 17.3 million syringes, 41,000 health workers and volunteers and 8 000 different vaccination locations. These are often in hard-to-reach rural settings in the DRC’s capital Kinshasa and surrounds and along the Angola-DRC border.
In the case of the return of polio in Nigeria after no cases had been reported for two years, Gwoza and Jere local government councils, all in Borno State, are the theatre yet. But the Nigerian health establishment is afraid that it could spread. The painful dialectics of polio in Nigeria is that it is coming at a time of its defeat. Nigeria was certified polio free by the WHO two years ago. Just as everyone was getting comfortable with a chapter closed, then the story of the outbreak.
The context of this development seems fairly easy to understand. The Boko Haram insurgency and the difficulties it has created in terms of deepening poverty and access to the areas worst hit by the war make reasonable explanations. War can trigger any other thing although life itself across much of Sub-Saharan Africa is, ordinarily, war. The overall living standard is so poor as to make people vulnerable to different attacks, if we move the discussion outside polio. Life is so vulnerable to any and everything.
It makes an epidemic or a pandemic the greatest nightmare or the biggest security threat across the continent. Any such outbreak would most likely result in millions of death quickly. With the very bad situation already in terms of the human, financial and technological resources to cope with ordinary health provisioning, such an emergency is bound to be a nightmare.
Larry Brilliant, the American epidemiologist and humanist, would put everything to early detection and early response as far as containing disease outbreaks is concerned. It would not be surprising to learn that the Nigerian health care system that, miraculously, rose to the challenge of ebola might have even advanced beyond that but it will be great to see that in action, on polio as well as in every other realm.