The issue over vaccines is a very controversial one. Generally, vaccines are a small dose of the actual virus that one is given to make them immune to the disease in the future. This idea of purposefully giving someone a disease causes some people to distrust the worth of vaccination. As discussed in the measles post, vaccines are not always considered safe by everyone that has the opportunity to receive them. This is currently being seen in Nigeria as religious, political, and scientific factors have caused polio vaccination campaigns to stop completely.
Polio is a crippling disease that has been around since Ancient Egypt (Akande 176). It’s symptoms include fever, nausea, and painful muscle spasms, and its effects, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, range from, “inflammation of the meninges (the membrane of the brain and spinal cord) to … paralysis and possible death” (DPPHS par, 1). Polio has seen major outbreaks all over the world, but due to work by global health organizations has generally been removed from the globe in the past decade, except in Nigeria.
Nigeria has experienced serious issues with the polio virus. As the developed world watches polio disappear from its countries, in 2003 Nigeria saw 45% of the world’s polio cases, the highest of any country (Akande 177). Efforts for vaccination in this area were going well until opposition struck. As stated by Akande in the scholarly journal entitled “Polio Eradication in Nigeria”:
Unfolded rumours about alleged adverse health effects, vaccine safety, contamination, overdose as well as promotion of anti OPV [oral polio vaccine] sentiments by political and religious opinion leaders motivated by political sentiments have led to rejections and or decline in service demand and acceptance [of the vaccine]. (178)
Some specific points made by those opposing the vaccine question why the focus is on a disease that is only killing a few while measles rages on elsewhere killing millions. Many also cite the rumor that the polio vaccine is linked to the disease HIV as reason for halting vaccination campaigns (Akande 179). Religious opposition to vaccination, presumably due to religion’s battle with science in general, has also led to outbreaks in the US and Canada in the time since the disease was officially considered defeated in the west (DPHHS par, 2).
“Polio Eradication in Nigeria” gives many options for ways to move forward past this opposition to get vaccination campaigns back on track. Overall, the best course of action as described in the journal is to get media outlets to back the campaigns and start major vaccine information distribution programs. The government also needs to help by creating an office specifically to head vaccination efforts and local doctors need to come out and publicly praise the vaccine’s legitimacy (Akande 179). It will be a long road back to public acceptance in Nigeria because once someone’s mind is set it is hard to change it back. But change is absolutely necessary for the safety of the citizens of this country and the world as a whole.
While I understand religious opposition to science and fear of vaccine safety, I do believe Nigeria and the global health community as a whole should do whatever it can to eradicate polio from everywhere in the world. It’s a matter of collective goods. If something is good for society as a whole sometimes you must sacrifice a little self-comfort for the greater good.
(Child receiving OPV in Nigeria www.comminit.com/en/node/307868/292)