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Armed gangs pose a risk in vaccinating rural Nigerians

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Yunusa Bawa rides his motorbike away from the health care clinic where he works in Kuje, southwest of the Nigerian capital Abuja and secure a black box of a COVID-19 vaccine for the arduous journey ahead.

The rocky and rough road – which Bawa describes as a road that “will tire you out” – is the least of his worries. He added: “Kidnapping along the route by armed gangs.

But such trips are essential if Africa’s most populous country is to achieve its ambitious goal of fully immunizing 55 million out of 206 million in the next two months.

As the emergence of the omicron variant underscores the importance of vaccinating more people to prevent new mutations of the coronavirus, Nigeria is also facing a tough road: Only 3.78 million fully vaccinated person.

Going to the villagers in person is one way to overcome any hesitation they may have in taking pictures, says Bawa, 39.

“When you meet them at their house, no problem,” he added. “Everybody will take (the vaccine).”

On December 1, Nigeria began requiring government employees to be vaccinated or have tested negative for the virus in the past 72 hours. Although authorities stress the country has the capacity to make Western-made vaccines available to everyone, health workers in rural areas are struggling, mainly because of the government. funding delay.

At Sabo Medical Center in Kuje, a town of about 300,000 people near Abuja International Airport, Bawa and three colleagues work in dilapidated buildings with dilapidated office equipment. In the past three months, only two of them have received compensation from the government, receiving about 10,000 Nigerian naira (about 24 USD).

That’s just enough to pay for gas for Bawa’s personal motorbike – “which we’re using to get around and inform them we’ll be arriving on specific days,” he said as he held Aminu’s hand. Baodo 75 years old before giving him a shot.

On a clear day, he might receive about 20 people, but usually five or less. Many rural residents are poor and spend most of their time on farms scattered throughout the countryside, rather than in their homes in the village.

That often means a long day for Bawa and his colleagues, alongside the risk of violence and weeks of waiting for meager compensation. He said he wasn’t sure when he would be paid by the government for his efforts or how long his personal finances would last.

A 20-year-old colleague, Yusuf Nasiru, said he has not been paid or reimbursed for expenses since starting work in November.

“If you work weekends, you get paid,” said Dr Ndaeyo Iwot, executive secretary of Abuja’s primary care agency, which oversees vaccinations in the capital. donate.

Armed groups in the northwest and central regions of Nigeria have killed hundreds of people this year and kidnapped thousands for ransom.

Dr Rilwanu Mohammed, the government official leading immunization efforts in the northeastern Nigerian state of Bauchi, said that in areas not besieged by violence, payments are slow to transport and management workers. vaccines remain “a big challenge for us”.

“They won’t pay until everyone’s done and there’s no money to move from one point to another,” Mohammed said, noting that he had to find the money himself to pay the costs of the workers.

Others criticized the government for not adequately funding a campaign to inform people about the coronavirus and the need to get vaccinated.

Honestly: “Nobody around here knows anything about vaccines,” said Omorogbe Omorogiuwa, who lives in Adamawa state, which borders the country Chad in northeastern Nigeria. “Nobody said you should go and get it. In fact, it is assumed that (the pandemic) is over.”

In an interview with The Associated Press, Dr Faisal Shuaib, executive director of the Nigerian National Primary Care Health Development Authority that oversees the vaccination program, blamed “the planning ( and) poor coordination leads to difficulty or challenge in ensuring that vaccines actually reach rural areas. ”

Officials also have to contend with vaccine skepticism in many parts of Nigeria, a deeply religious country where some religious leaders spread misinformation about the virus and vaccines. for their millions of followers.

In addition to the misinformation circulating on social media, some people in northern Nigeria remember the deaths of several children in 1996 from meningitis during a Pfizer clinical trial of an antibiotic. drink, leading to a legal battle with the pharmaceutical giant that won money for several families.

Authorities have aligned themselves with traditional and religious leaders to bring the truth about the vaccine to their followers, Shuaib said.

“But obviously, some states still need to do a lot of work to ensure that these vaccines reach the communities,” he added, noting that Nigeria has 30 million doses available, and many more. More will come in the coming months.

Adeyunmi Emoruwa, lead strategist at Gatefield, an Abuja-based think tank, said the government should focus more on “promoting vaccine safety and effectiveness” rather than fulfilling its mandate. services to government employees. He added that civil servants will spread the word about the vaccine if they “believe” it will work.

Musa Ahmed, an immunization officer in Kuje, said “social mobilization has not been done … and that is (the reason) some people still doubt the vaccine.”

That leaves a large portion of the Nigerian population unvaccinated and at “enormous” risk of exposure, said Dr Richard Mihigo, immunization program and vaccine development coordinator. World Health Organization s Africa regional office.

“As long as we give the virus an opportunity to mutate,” Mihigo said in an online meeting.

On December 1, the Nigeria Center for Disease Control said the omicron variant was found in three travelers to the country in late November – the first in west African The omicron variation has been documented since scientists in southern Africa discovered and reported it.

In Kaduna state, which neighbors the capital, Bitrus Maiyaki is another healthcare worker venturing out to bring vaccines to rural communities besieged by violence.

“To support government operations, we surrendered (our lives),” Maiyaki, 41, told the AP in a phone interview from Jama’a, where he oversaw the work. vaccination. “And we want to save lives. … We have sworn to serve our fatherland. We only take bulls by the horns.”

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Associated Press journalist AJayi Taiwo Oluwole in Abuja, Nigeria contributed.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/nigeria-abuja-west-africa-covid-chad-b1971144.html Armed gangs pose a risk in vaccinating rural Nigerians

JACLYN DIAZ

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