Hearing reports of massive inflows of foreign assistance – millions of US Dollars, plane-loads of medicines, building materials, blankets and warm clothing – into Japan and 13 other countries along the coasts of those countries bordering the Indian Ocean following the devastating, mega-earthquake, the Tsunami, a poor but calculating and witty Nigerian offered a prayer. He said to his God, “in view of the chronic poverty and want in these parts, why not, oh God, send this Tsunami to my country so that, here too, we will be recipients of these foodstuffs and blankets they are sharing?” He probably didn’t reckon with the fact that if he had been in that region, he might have been among the 230,000 men, women and children, members of the coastal communities whose lives were lost.
This country is not the only place where people can be happy about misfortunes striking others. Ripley’s film, “Believe It or Not”, tells this story. Reports from Brazil speak of millions in that country who are happy with that country’s humiliating defeat by Germany and Netherlands in the just-ended World Cup. Brazilians in their large numbers want to see the back of the country’s leader, Dilma Roussef, so anything that adds to her woes is delightfully welcome.
The ironic return of the wild polio strain, the one that the world had assumed had been eradicated in nearly all parts of Nigeria, should, in the light of the above, surprise no one. Politics aside, there is so much going on in the country to ensure that polio, even if it goes, will return again and again like the proverbial Abiku.
Nigeria has one of the world’s worst health sectors. As I write, doctors have walked off their jobs in the hospitals. Nobody knows how long the strike will last. As a consequence, patients have been thrown out in all public hospitals. Those without money to continue their treatment in the costly private medical facilities have, in a way, been handed early death certificates. The health system, on the whole, has sunk to the bottom of an abyss that is devoid of the culture of compassion, care and fellow feeling. Weaknesses in the system are there for everyone to see. Vaccine supplies start and stop, making sustainability, which is a condition for polio eradication, a mere pipe dream. Records, especially in the vast Northern part of the country show that immunization has nosedived.
Without 80-85 percent success rate, and in the face of an explosive birth rate, there is no way polio can be cleared out of Nigeria. Add that to the fact that 60-70 percent of the country’s population is living below the poverty line. With all these, polio, which is a disease of poverty and unclean environment, has a perfect setting in which to thrive. Cushioned by corruption, wasteful government spending, high unemployment, crime and insecurity, there is little wonder that the whole country is fast becoming a sick society and the return of polio is, therefore, a mere symptom of the underlying affliction that affects the polity as a whole. It is not only the health sector that has collapsed. Corruption has equally caused the decay in the school system and social services as a whole. Urban planning has been abandoned. That is why every rainy season comes with tragedies occasioned by floods. Building collapse in urban cities is an everyday phenomenon.
In an addition to all these, Nigeria has to contend with a gluttonous global system, which interest is not served by the eradication of epidemics such as polio. Huge grants such as the USD50 million in this respect by the Bill Gates Foundation and money, well-meaning business leaders such as Aliko Dangote continue to pour into the polio eradication campaign, may actually be feeding this greed that we are talking about. First, it is a fact that modern medicines are designed with profit in mind. Drug companies push for sales as do, or even more aggressively than, vehicle manufacturers.
It is like there is fun in epidemics for doctors and pharmaceutical companies all over the world. It is a known fact that doctors get cutbacks from drug companies. Even the technical people, there are so many of them whose careers are tied to diseases, without which they will be without jobs. It is a picture of conspiracy well beyond the control of this country.
The full return of polio should horrify everyone but is inevitable in view of the current conditions in the country. So long as the environment is right for the epidemic to stay here and thrive and with the conmen all over the place eyeing overseas dollars coming in to, supposedly, fight polio, there is no way the disease can leave our shores. That is the reality.