This is part three of a four-part series from U.K. Broadcaster and ex-Paralympian Ade Adepitan. Ade recently went back to his birth country of Nigeria to see why kids in his country were still getting polio.
Up in the North, life was very different to the edgy hustle and bustle of Lagos. In the North, Islam is the dominant religion, and on the surface life seemed very calm. The landscape is arid and the intense heat cuts through you like a scythe.
The most emotional moment in my trip came in the northern city of Sokoto. It’s a vibrant and in parts intoxicating city found on the border that links Nigeria with Niger. Many of its inhabitants originate from the Fulani tribe, a nomadic peoples who often cross into Niger when herding their livestock. This nomadic lifestyle has made carrying out vaccination programs very difficult, trying to locate the tribe is not an easy task.
I’d also heard that some people in Sokoto were refusing to have their children vaccinated. I remember driving to meet a family that had refused the vaccine, wondering what to expect. I tried to not have any preconceptions. It was important to hear this family’s story with a clear head. When we got to their street we were met by a group of at least 20 kids. They couldn’t hold back the excitement of seeing us. Michael Simkin, the cameraman and director of the film, along with myself, probably made an odd paring. A tall skinny white guy with glasses, and a short stocky black guy with dreadlocks in a wheelchair. I’m willing to bet that they had never seen such an odd couple before.
Amino Ahmed, from the Polio Victims Trust Association, came along with us to act as translator and also to dish out his unique brand of passionate advocacy. Amino uses his own polio to show people the risks of not vaccinating their children. And unlike me, he doesn’t use a wheelchair. Together the three of us walked, pushed and hobbled down what was one of dirtiest streets I’d ever seen. It was sandy and the ground was covered in a mixture of animal droppings and house hold waste. The pathway we used was about 3ft wide and there was an even narrower path opposite us. Separating the two paths was a sight I will never forget. There was a ditch, two or three feet wide and about four feet deep serving as an open sewage pipe. It was filled with everything from human waste to clothes to children’s toys. All of it had congealed and been mixed by the harsh sun to create a deadly toxic pool of waste.
What really saddened me is when I saw 15 month old Josefa, he was the same age I had been when I contracted polio.
The other children laughed and played, some leaping across the sewage filled ditch, probably not fully understanding the dangers of falling into the disgusting pit. Josefa was sitting on his father’s lap. I spoke to his father with the help of Aminu.
One night vaccinators came and knocked on Josefa’s father’s door, they had come to vaccinate children in the area. Josefa needed to be vaccinated but he also had a temperature. His Dad asked the vaccinators if they had any medicine to help bring down his son’s fever. Josefa’s Dad claimed they didn’t have any other medicines, only the polio vaccine. Josefa’s Dad in a fury said he would not allow them to vaccinate his son. A few months later Josefa contracted polio. I asked his Father how this made him feel. The sadness that descended on him was almost overwhelming, he told me he prayed to God every day and asked to swap places with Josefa.
Josefa’s Father is not a bad man I could see how much he loved his boy, but he made a mistake and he knew it. He’d sentenced his son to a life of extreme hardship. As we left their compound, I looked at the ground and the sewage pit and thought of Josefa crawling and dragging himself through the horrible streets. I struggled to keep a hold on my emotions. I needed to do something.
Find out tomorrow in the final Part 4: Turning Emotions into Action on Polio to hear how Ade created a local movement to support polio eradication efforts and survivors in Nigeria.
To find out more about global polio eradication efforts and join the fight, please visit www.endpolionow.org or www.polioeradication.org