No doubt, the message two years old Fana and her parents, all refugees from Nigeria, received in a health center in Diffa region on May 25, 2014 was devastating: The girl had tested positive for the type 2 vaccine-derived Poliovirus – or “wild polio” virus.
The so-called “wild polio” virus has remained endemic in northern Nigeria. This is because of low coverage achieved in the routine immunization programmes. Most of the displaced fleeing into the Diffa region are from the troubled state of Borno in northern Nigeria.
Immediately a medical team comprising of WHO, UNICEF and Niger’s Ministry of Public Health, was set up. The team worked closely with Damassak health district (in Borno state in Nigeria to where Fana’s family had returned to) and the child was promptly treated.
The team, according to Dr. Obama Nse Ricardo of WHO Niger, continues working and has instituted several preventive and emergency measures to check the situation: This includes reinforcing methods for detecting cases of polio, but foremost a mass vaccination campaign to take place from 22nd to 25th August 2014 and a second round from the 5th to 8th September 2014 in all districts of the Diffa region.
The influx from Nigeria, or the back and forth movement between Niger and Nigeria as in the case of Fana, amplifies the public health risks in the region which are exacerbated by conflict in northern Nigeria. The polio alert is unlikely to be over soon.