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My Neighbour’s Polio Plight vs my Brother’s Misery of Measles

#MyVaccineMyLife Blog Series:

Over the years, Immunization has been a major strategy aimed towards achieving optimal results in global health. In Nigeria, it is targeted at reducing child mortality rate hence the primary objective to vaccinate all children below the age of one against polio and childhood killer diseases like pneumonia, measles, diarrhea, whooping cough, tetanus, etc. 

It was getting dark, I was laying down on the seat just behind the driver’s, and it was my father’s old rickety BMW car. I watched the clouds move and wondered what God was doing at the moment in “heaven”. My brother was right beside me, snoring, that was possibly his 5th or 6th nap for the day. “Uncle are we not there yet?” I asked with an exhausted sigh. “Very soon don’t worry” my uncle who was seated just beside the driver reassured me for the umpteenth time. What seemed promising like a sweet adventurous trip earlier in the day was now an unending nightmare. My feet were numb, my “bumbum” was sore, I had lost my patience…all of it! I was angry.

“Welcome to Keffi” my uncle exclaimed! Adrenaline rush sent me right up in a jerk. I sat up, excited, “finally” I said. My sorrows were over all of a sudden. It was my first trip to the Northern part of Nigeria, Keffi precisely in Nassarawa state. We were there to spend our three weeks holiday from school. The next day, after a long rest as suggested by my aunty, even though I barely slept out of anxiety .My brother and I set out for sightseeing and making new friends in the neighborhood, we were happy to be away from home where my parents never allowed us out of the house. The freedom was exhilarating.

It was the second week already and we had settled into our new temporary environment, my brother and I had new friends, but I was attracted to this particular kid, who never got up to dance or jump around like everyone else, he was also avoided a lot for reasons i was eager to find out. His name was Yusuf, he was paralyzed on both legs from Poliomyelitis; Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a crippling and debilitating  infectious disease. It is caused by the poliovirus. The virus spreads from person to person and can invade an infected person’s brain and spinal cord, causing paralysis. Children younger than 5 years old are more likely to contract the virus than any other group. Prevention of poliomyelitis can be attained by getting children vaccinated with the OPV (Oral Polio Vaccine)—at birth, 6, 10 and14 weeks of age. House-to-house polio vaccination is also being conducted to ensure every child under five years of age is immunized against the virus.   .

It was our third week in Keffi, my uncle was back for us, and I felt accomplished. Finally I had visited the North, I was eager to tell everyone about my experience. I said final goodbyes to everyone and a very special one to Yusuf my good friend. Our bags were packed, time to go, i turned around to look at my brother… felt like the first time in two weeks i was paying him any attention. I took a second look at my brother, he had fever, dry cough, runny nose, inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis), tiny red spots all over, measles! Measles, also known as rubeola or morbilli, is a highly infectious illness caused by the rubeola virus. Measles is an endemic disease, meaning it is continually present in a community and many people develop resistance. However, if measles enters an area where the people have not been exposed, the result can be devastating. Measles can be prevented by vaccination,    hence, every child should be given measles vaccine from 9th month of life.   MMR (measles, mumps & rubella) vaccine is nearly 100% effective at preventing measles. The trip back to Akwa Ibom was long and terrifying. I was scared for my brother’s health. We made it back in good time. My mum did all she could to salvage the situation for the night.

We set out early for the hospital the next day, my brother was back to good health in few weeks then it dawned on my parents to do a checklist of the vaccines we had missed and have them administered where and when appropriate. Later at night, I laid in bed, reminiscing, from all the new delicacies I had to the pigs I saw roaming the streets and  my new friend Yusuf who had survive without his legs as a result of poliomyelitis due to parental negligence….finally I was off to dreamland.

A lot of factors are being considered when evaluating the challenges that comes with attaining the primary objective of intercepting/eradicating vaccine preventable diseases. Such factors can range from Individual negligence, lack of awareness, proximity factors, vaccine availability, cold-chain management, cultural/superstitious beliefs amongst others. The latter being one of the major challenges which falls under the individual factors as it is in the case of my friend Yusuf whose mother failed to get him vaccinated due to lack of awareness thereby leaving him permanently paralyzed from poliomyelitis. It is important for the Government of Nigeria to make it possible for every child irrespective of their socioeconomic background or place of residence have access to immunization services. For this to be possible, adequate funding should be assured. #NigFundVaccines because #VaccineGoodOh!

By; Amina Danjuma