- Niger is the African country with the second highest polio infection rate, but the efforts to eradicate the disease here have mostly been overshadowed by controversial events south of the border, in northern Nigeria. While the polio situation in Niger remains "a concern", there is now hope of reaching the eradication aim.
The government of Niger has led an uphill struggle to control the polio epidemic in the country. In 2002, there were only 3 registered polio cases in Niger. Only one extra was registered in the first half of 2003. But then came the tide.
In the second half of 2003, another 39 polio infection cases were registered in Niger. Most new infections were concentrated in the Nigerien region of Maradi and other areas close to the border of northern Nigeria. 18 new cases have already been registered in Niger this year.
Niger, the world's second poorest country, has the weakest possible preconditions to lead a large-scale immunisation campaign against a disease. For each doctor in Niger, there are over 30,000 inhabitants. An estimated 70 percent of Nigeriens are without medical services and half are even without safe water supplies.
Nevertheless, immense government efforts aided by the global Polio Eradication Initiative made authorities believe they were close to winning the battle against polio only two years ago. Last year, however, state authorities in Nigeria's Kano halted immunisation there, leading to a wave in new infections and a resurface of the border-crossing disease. Also in Niger, the number of registered polio cases boomed.
- Niger is still a concern to us, Melissa Corkum of the WHO's Polio Eradication Initiative told afrol News. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is however optimistic regarding its Niger campaigns after the Kano Governor yesterday announced that polio immunisation would resume in the Nigerian state just south of Niger's border.
According to Ms Corkum, Nigerien authorities only recently organised four national polio immunisation days, where a great part of the population was reached. There is, however still more work to be done.
At the beginning of this year, only 52 percent of Nigerien children had received vaccines. This immunisation rate is to increase rapidly during 2004. After the successful National Immunisation Days organised in May, more operations are already planned.
Niger is one of 22 Western and Central African nations targeted in the large-scale polio campaigns planned for October and November this year. The huge campaign will be organised simultaneously in an area spanning from Cape Verde in the west, Chad in the north-east and Congo-Brazzaville in the south, according to Ms Corkum.
Most of these 22 countries have not registered polio infections for several years, but the WHO is concerned that other countries in the region will experience the same setback as Niger if new generations of children are not immunised. Only few African countries have the funds and infrastructure to provide vaccines to all children at birth.
The October and November polio campaigns will dramatically increase the vaccination rate among Nigeriens. The WHO has however no illusions that this campaign will be enough to eradicate the disease from Niger.
- Polio is still endemic in Niger, explains Ms Corkum. This means that not all of the cases reported are imported from the epidemic in neighbouring Nigeria. Niger is one of the world's six remaining polio endemic countries. "More campaigns targeting Niger in particular will be necessary after the regional campaign later this year," she told afrol News.
But with the epidemic now finally being treated in Nigeria's Kano state, the task of eradicating polio in Niger is again within reach. Although the WHO does not believe it will reach it end-2004 goal for the eradication of the disease, the situation is again turning manageable.
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