Community mobilizers in Nigeria fight polio and malnutrition

Networks established to end polio are starting to help provide other life-saving benefits for children in Nigeria, such as evaluating for malnutrition, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative said on Friday.

In some locations, like Kano State where many children battle life-threatening illnesses, parents may refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated against polio. The polio vaccine becomes a sort of bargaining tool where parents refuse to have their children vaccinated against unless other services are given to the children.

In July, close to one percent of all children under the age of five in Kano State were denied the polio vaccine because their parents refused to give it to them. Of those children, 33.9 percent of parents refused the vaccine because they were sick and 3.2 percent were denied because of unmet demand for other services.

Volunteer community mobilizers are receiving training to determine if children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. In one instance, Hauwa Ibrahim, a community mobilizer, determined that a two-year old boy was suffering from severe acute malnutrition by measuring the boy's mid-upper arm circumference.

"Six months ago, he used to look pale and thin and was always sick." Abdul Labi Abo, the boy's father, said. "I used to spend most of my time taking my wife and him to doctors. But all this changed after Hauwa told us to enroll him in the (Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition) center. His mother can now even leave him home with me and go visit family members, like she did today."

In Nigeria's Kano State, close to one in five children dies before their fifth birthday. Approximately 37 percent of children under five are underweight, 54 percent are stunted and 11 percent show wasting.

Ibrahim provided the right advice at the right time and brought the boy's parents on board as supporters in her mission to increase acceptance to the polio vaccine.

"We like the way she works and her genuine care and concern," Abo said. "Many of us used to think the polio vaccine was a plot by Western countries to make our children impotent. Not anymore."