AN OUTBREAK of polio has struck parts of Nigeria that are largely inaccessible to the outside world because of fighting between Islamist militants and the military, where thousands of children are already suffering from severe malnutrition.
Two children were diagnosed this week with paralysis due to wild poliovirus, in a part of Borno state which has been out of reach for the medical teams carrying out immunisations because of attacks by the militant group Boko Haram.
UNICEF said that an emergency vaccination programme had been launched immediately, to reach about one million children under five years of age in Borno state.
A spokesman for UNICEF, Toby Fricker, said that the immediate response will be followed by five rounds of vaccinations across the country, and the wider Lake Chad region.
The UN agency has warned that 244,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition this year in Borno state alone, and if they are not reached with treatment soon, one in five of them will die.
The charity Médicins San Frontières (MSF) described the humanitarian situation in Borno state as “catastrophic”.
A spokeswoman said: “When our teams visited Banki recently to provide medical assistance and deliver food, they found a terrible health situation, marked by high rates of severe acute malnutrition. Some patients needed to be referred to neighbouring Cameroon due to the severity of their condition.
“The situation in Borno is critical, with people critically lacking access to food, water, and adequate healthcare.”
Banki, a border-town near Cameroon, is currently accessible only with a military escort. It was recaptured from Boko Haram last year.
One grandmother sent by MSF to Cameroon for treatment was Maka, who was suffering from severe acute malnutrition, a condition rare in adults. She was accompanied by her five-year-old grandson, and her niece, who brought her own 11-month-old son. The two children were also suffering from advanced malnutrition and needed to be admitted to hospital urgently for life-saving treatment.
Maka told MSF that her family had fled their home because of violence, and been trapped in Banki.
“We received barely two kilograms of food per week, and most of the time it was rice or corn. Everybody got the same amount, whether you were on your own or if you had ten children. We were entitled to one bucket of water a day, which wasn’t enough, as that one bucket of water had to be used for drinking and washing our pots and clothes. Sometimes, we didn’t even get that much. In terms of healthcare, occasionally the authorities sent in medical staff, but they never stayed in Banki for very long.”
Retired Christian leaders of the main denominations met in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, last weekend. They warned that the people of Nigeria were becoming desperate.
After the first meeting of the After Service Leaders Forum, the retired leader of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, Sunday Makinde, said: “There is poverty in the land. There is frustration, insecurity, and hunger in the land. People are in despair.”
The group also issued a warning to the President, Muhammadu Buhari, that they would resist any attempts to Islamicise Nigeria.
Two million people have been displaced during years of brutal attacks by Boko Haram in the region, covering Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Cameroon. Many of them are now living in temporary camps.