The rising storm: Polio in Nigeria


When will we take ownership of this problem?

When will our Ministry of Health, our State Governors, our Religious Leaders, our Commmunity leaders take ownership of this problem? Until we do that…the world is at our mercy!

Nigeria could well go down as the country that sabotaged the one of the largest public health initiatives of our time.

The 3 other polio endemic countries, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, have made significant progress….yes…even Afganistan!

September 2008: Nigeria has 675 cases of wild poliovirus in 2008, compared to 207 for the same period in 2007.

September 2008: Nigeria accounts for 85% of the global wild poliovirus type 1 cases (the type-1 polio – the most dangerous strain of the virus) and 10% of wild poliovirus type 3 cases

September 2008: Nigeria accounts for 91% of the cases in Africa.

…and forget all the reasons you hear!

Its not about religion…or try entering Saudi Arabia without a certificate showing your polio vaccination status.

Its not about resources

Its not about awareness…

Its all about LEADERSHIP. Our own leadership. Starting from leadership at the family level, at the community level, at the church amd mosque level, at the local government level, and at the state level.

How often have you heard their voices? How often have you heard the voice of the Governor of Kano State, the geographical patch with the highest density of polio cases in the world?

Sadly…this problem cannot and will not be solved by WHO and the FMoH….despite thier best intentions and efforts.

It will only be solved if our leaders at the levels above see this as our problem.

We have the tools….we have the resources…lets get to work.

So much is at stake …so much…

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (, which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

Discussion1 Comment

  1. It is quite disgraceful that Nigeria is the major exporter of Type-1 polio virus in the world. The 312 cases so far reported in Nigeria this year are higher than the total number of cases in India, Pakistan and Indonesia put together. The population of those three countries is about 1.5 Billion people while Nigeria is just about 140 million. The same axis where polio is becoming endemic in Nigeria also doubles as the meningitis belt in Nigeria. The leaders deceive the people with religious sentiments while taking care that their (the leaders’) own children are properly immunised. Thank God that the government has been able to achieve out-of-court settlement with Pfizer on the Trovan trials of 1996, otherwise the whole world would have seen how we play politics with the lives of our people. We were trying to blame a foreign company for our government’s crass incompetence. But even the WHO knows that our children die of the twin epidemics of polio and meningitis routinely. The situation in reality is so bad. I agree completely that our salvation is in our hands. We have to make our governments accountable, by force if necessary.

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