Boko Haram have made villages they control in Borno state in Nigeria too dangerous for health workers to get to in order to vaccinate children against polio. This is yet another example of disruption by extremists to daily life in the northeast, leaving children vulnerable to an entirely preventable disease. Nigeria - along with Pakistan and Afghanistan - is one of just three countries where polio is still endemic and has not yet been eradicated.
Health workers target displaced children coming from areas controlled by Boko Haram by giving vaccinations and trying to educate families about the need for it. Given the inaccessibility of these remote places, misinformation about immunisation has been a challenge for displaced families; there have, for example, been baseless rumours that polio vaccines can cause sterility. A few villagers have reported being directly threatened by Boko Haram not to have their children vaccinated.
A WHO-appointed monitoring group said last year that the final phase to wipe out polio is "proving to be extraordinarily difficult" because "the poliovirus is surviving despite all the good work and in the face of everything that is being thrown at it". According to the monitoring group, there is little or no surveillance data in Nigeria’s Borno state, and “the entire polio (eradication) program is at risk" unless there is a breakthrough to reach those areas in Borno.
WHO declared Nigeria polio free in 2015, but in 2016 cases of polio were identified in three locations in Borno state, though there have been no new cases registered since then. WHO has allocated a budget of $USD 127 million toward eradicating polio in Nigeria between 2018 and 2019. Soldiers will be trained by experts so that they will be able to vaccinate children who cannot otherwise be reached. In 2013 a number of health workers were killed by the extremists, leading some of their colleagues to disguise their vaccine carriers or hide them under their hijabs.
Boko Haram's insurgency began in Maiduguri, Borno state's capital, but its reach has expanded beyond Nigeria's borders to neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon. Its violence has proved to be a major setback to the international campaign against polio.