The public reappearance of polio in northeast Nigeria is a disappointment. Nigeria had been thought to be free of polio for two years. The recent cases of paralysis caused by polio are likely the result of ongoing, undetected transmission rather than a new introduction of the disease from elsewhere. The small numbers of paralysis probably masks the extent of the presence of the disease. Only about one in two hundred polio cases results in paralysis. Polio would appear to remain present in areas formerly under control of Boko Haram, which is opposed to vaccination and western medicine in general.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a consortium that includes UNICEF, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations, is responding to the newly detected outbreak with a major campaign to vaccinate 41 million children against polio in the Lake Chad basin, which comprises Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. UNICEF states that the Initiative has deployed 39,000 health workers in the region and has already vaccinated approximately 30 million children using oral polio vaccine.
UN spokesmen identify two challenges: continued insecurity in the region and a shortage of funds. Boko Haram has not been destroyed and continues to attack soft targets. For example, Nigerian media report that a Boko Haram bombing killed at least eighteen in Maiduguri on October 11. UNICEF has also not received all of it’s necessary funding, it has received only $50.4 million of the $158 million it needs for the Lake Chad basin campaign. Victims of paralysis in the Lake Chad basin lack even the most rudimentary medical care where wheelchairs are a rare luxury. Given the horror of polio, surely the international community can cover the $108 million shortfall, a pittance compared to other government expenditures.