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I Saw Hell…But I will be a Polio Vaccinator Again

04 Mar 2013

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Children loiter outside the Haye clinic in Kano where seven polio vaccinators were killed on February 8, 2013

It will be exactly one month on Friday March 8, when 10 polio vaccinators were killed in a bizarre manner by unknown gunmen in Kano, Ibrahim Shuaibu visited the families of slain polio vaccinators and the survivors and writes about how their attack and deaths affected the families they left behind

Still gasping from shock over the death of her only daughter a few weeks ago, Wada Sule rubbed his temple as if suffering from a headache. He adjusted his chair, cleared his throat and said, “even if all my family members will be killed, I will continue to encourage them to support polio immunization exercise.”

Mallam Wada Sule is the father of one of the deceased, Ramatu Wada.  He described his late daughter as “honest, responsible and very religious woman who was married with children.”

Ramatu, one of the ten polio vaccinators was killed by gunmen who trailed them using motorcycle.

According to witnesses, on February 2,  gunmen in tricycles arrived at Hotoro Quarters in Haye, Kano, opened fire on health workers who were carrying out a routine inoculation of children in the ongoing anti-polio campaign, and killed seven. Thirty minutes later, gunmen on motorcycles launched an attack on the Shargawlle Comprehensive Health Centre at Ungwar Uku on the outskirts of Kano city, killing additional two.

Mallam Sule says, he got the bad news of his daughter’s death in the market. “I was informed by my wife that my daughter Ramatu was shot dead at Unguwa Uku during polio exercise.  I quickly abandoned my petty trade and rushed to the hospital to confirm the news by myself.

“I saw Ramatu covered with her wrapper, and when I opened it, I saw her dead in the pool of her blood, the people around tried to control me from passing-out after I saw the corpse, but later I returned into my senses and prayed for her soul before the official release of her body to me for burial.”

Those who knew Ramatu before her death say, “She was always there to help.”

But for Mallam Sani, whose sister Naja’atu sustained several degrees of injuries, life has been tough since his 21-year-old sister was attacked.  He recounts, “I was at home when my friend informed me that polio workers were attacked and killed, and since my sister was participating I knew she must be a victim. I rushed home to find out but there was no information. I later received a call that my sister was among those attacked.

“I returned back home and informed my aged mother who directed me to check at the hospital, but when  I arrived at the hospital I saw her on the bed with injuries which she sustained from the attack but she is alive.”

He said despite the prevailing circumstances, “we won’t be deterred by this evil act and that is why we are praying to the Almighty Allah to touch the heart of the perpetrators to have a change of mind.”

In her account, a survivor of the attack, Najaatu Usman said, “the gunmen arrived at the area in motorized tricycles, stormed the building and opened fire on us and luckily for me I sustained injuries on hands and legs, while two women and a man were killed because I can vividly remember that I saw them fell by the bullets, so from there I only saw myself on hospital bed.”

She also said the assailants had also made an unsuccessful attempt to burn the bodies of their victims by locking them up in the building to set them ablaze.

Najaatu also explained that the scene was like a movie, “I saw one of my colleagues shot in the head and chest.  It was not different from the scenes we see in movies, because from nowhere I saw people firing shot sporadically at us.”

According to her, “I saw hell, but I will never be intimidated in assisting communities anytime when there is this exercise. I will participate without fear and I also believe that my parent will allow me to do so because it’s an assignment to serve humanity.”

One of the victims was preparing for wedding when she was cut short in her prime before the day of her joy by the assailants, an Association of Nurses and Midwifery has said.

A group, Northern Health Awareness Team (NHAT), has also condemned the murder of the polio vaccinators calling it, “wicked and coward act perpetrated by the gunmen at a time, officials were preparing for a mop up exercise to round up a four day polio vaccination campaign.”

The group’s spokesperson, Salaudeen Abdulkadir, called on the Federal Government to probe the killings and ensure that the perpetrators were brought to book.

He said it was saddening that the officials were killed trying to ensure Nigerian children received vaccines that would protect them from polio, tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis.

According to Kano State Health Commissioner, Abubakar Labaran, “the attack on polio immunization workers is a setback to the polio eradication programme and the success we have recorded so far.  The polio eradication campaign is a very important issue with the Kano State government.”

The head of Kano State Polio Victims Trust Association, Aminu Ahmed Tundunwada said, “This shooting is a serious threat to polio immunization in Kano. It will take at least three months to get the programme back on track because vaccinators are now scared of going out to do their work.”

Nigeria, alongside Pakistan and Afghanistan, is one of three countries still considered to have endemic polio. Of the 222 polio cases recorded worldwide in 2012, 121 were from Nigeria, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Last year, Kano recorded 17 new cases of polio pulling back the progress Nigeria achieved in the previous year as a near zero- polio country.

Experts say there is need to rethink approach to polio vaccination based on the security situation in the country. For instance, vaccinators are not always trained health professionals and go door-to-door to administer vaccines, rather than providing them in health centres where people expect medical care. Although, the reason for door-to-door polio vaccination  has been said to be the need to reach as many people as possible since many parents still keep their children away from being vaccinated, especially in the Northern part of the country.

As part of their humanitarian assistance to the victims’ families, a total of N24.45 million has been donated by the Federal Government, Kano State Government and Dangote Group of Companies to support the families of 10 health workers who lost their lives during the immunization exercise.

To this end, the Federal Government donated N1 million each to the 10 family members, with N200, 000 each given to the seven injured victims. The Chairman of Dangote group of Companies, Alhaji Aliko Dangote donated N500, 000 each to the bereaved families and N250, 000 each to the injured victims.

Announcing the Federal Government donation, the Minister of State for health Dr. Muhammad Ali Pate said in Kano that the Federal Government’s contribution should not be regarded as compensation, as human lives cannot be quantified in monetary terms, adding that it is merely an assistance, considered necessary for now and recalled that three health workers had earlier lost their lives in Borno in similar circumstances in addition to the murder of Korean Doctors in Yobe General Hospital.

“It is an unfortunate tragic attack on innocent people trying to immunize and protect children and condole with the Government, people of Kano, as well as family members of the affected health workers, describing the incident as unfortunate and barbaric,” he said.

Tags: Life and Style, Life, Featured, Polio Vaccinator

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