THE FOUNTAIN WALK – AN AWARENESS RALLY HELD IN COMMEMORATION OF 2019 WORLD POLIO DAY, ON THE 21ST OF OCTOBER 2019 AT THE UNITY FOUNTAIN ABUJA, NIGERIA
THEME: BEYOND POLIO ERADICATION: ACCESS TO MULTI-SECTORAL SERVICES FOR POLIO SURVIVORS
As the world commemorates World Polio Day on October 24 2019, we at Disability Rights Advocacy Center and our partners reaffirm our commitment to collaborate with stakeholders and partners to completely eradicate polio while making efforts to rehabilitate and reintegrate the teeming population of polio survivors left with the disabling effects of the disease.
Polio is a highly infectious disease which is as life threatening as it is disabling. Also known as ‘Poliomyelitis’ in medical terms, it is a disease caused by the deadly ‘Poliovirus’ usually affecting children under age 5. The virus mainly affects the nervous system, leaving the person with a weak, impaired leg and unable to walk normally for the rest of their lives. In some cases, the neck or head muscles may also be affected.
During the 1940s and 1950s, polio killed or impaired nearly two million people globally. Fortunately, in the past two decades, the world has seen a steep decline in the total number of recorded cases with many parts like Europe, America and South East Asia being declared polio free.
Though the disease has been eradicated from most countries, it still affects some of the most marginalized sections and poorest people in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. Nigeria may be certified polio-free this December when it would have accomplished interruption of Wild Polio Virus (WPV) transmission for over three years. In spite of the success, if we fail to completely eradicate this highly infectious disease, there is a good possibility of it reappearing in the coming decades, thus requiring a sustained focus on vaccinating every child in the most marginalized sections of the society.
We at DRAC strongly believe that the elimination of new polio cases should not also signal an end to the engagement with polio. We therefore wish to use the occasion of World Polio Day 2019, to sound a note of caution, that the commitment to eradicating polio should not be considered complete while those living with the disabling consequences of polio continue to live in poor health, poverty and social isolation.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that up to 20 million people worldwide continue to live with the disabling consequences of the disease. In developed countries where polio immunization became universal after dissemination of the polio vaccine in the 1950s, almost all individuals who have had polio are now above age 50. But in developing countries like Nigeria where polio vaccination campaigns reached large segments of the population only after 1988, millions disabled by polio are still children or young adults.
Demographically, this group is also different. After three decades of immunization efforts, those children unvaccinated in the late 1980s were mostly those from poorer rural and slum communities and mostly girls—groups not only harder to reach than more affluent members of the population, but also individuals who, if they contract polio, are less likely to have access to medical and rehabilitation programs or education, job training, employment and social support services.
Individuals disabled through polio confront not only a range of physical disabilities but also significant social, financial and human rights barriers hindering their integration and participation in families and communities. These barriers in turn, lead to chronic ill-health, social marginalization, limited access to education and employment, and high rates of poverty. Women are impacted disproportionately, as are individuals from poorer households, minority communities and from rural and urban slum areas.
Understanding the current health and rehabilitation needs as well as the socio-economic situation of polio survivors is critical for identifying their unmet needs. Access to resources on both national and global bases is a right guaranteed under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD; UN, 2006).
Although the situation of polio survivors in high income countries is relatively well documented – a dearth of information in low- income and mid-income countries like Nigeria continues. This lack of knowledge has profound political, social and economic implications for local, national and international policy makers; this need for data on PWDs generally is reflected in Article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
Many of the challenges faced by polio survivors – equal access to health, education and employment opportunities, poverty eradication and personal mobility for example – fall within the mandate of the CRPD and the newly enacted Disability Act. Thus, the status of polio survivors stands them in good stead when advocating for state responses to their needs.
It is against this background that DRAC is using the occasion of the annual polio day commemoration to hold this fountain walk / rally to draw attention to this gross injustice and inequality as well as shift attention to the plight of polio survivors.
The obligation to continue to provide support and services to those millions of children and adults with disabilities caused by polio is a logical extension of the current global commitment to polio eradication. The risk of lifelong paralysis is very serious. Even children who seem to fully recover can develop new muscle pain, weakness, or paralysis as adults, 15 to 40 years later.
We therefore call on the relevant authorities to adopt the twin track approach of identifying and eliminating the polio virus while also ensuring the rehabilitation of those experiencing debilitating health and social consequences of surviving polio.
We highly commend the range of innovative strategies being used to reach children in high-risk areas, including opportunistic campaigns, market vaccination, cross-border points and outreach to nomads.
To further halt the outbreak, we call on all partners and stakeholders to work together to increase community awareness, enhance surveillance to identify residual traces of the virus and ensure that all children are vaccinated with at least three doses of the oral polio vaccine.
We further urge both state and non-state actors to channel the same level of effort, attention, funding and commitment now being directed towards polio eradication towards providing for the rehabilitative, medical, educational and social needs of those for whom the disabling consequences of polio will remain a daily challenge for decades to come.
Finally, and most importantly, we call on Government to fast-track the implementation of the Disability Rights Act without further delay including the establishment of the National Disability Commission to ensure that the health and socio-economic needs of polio survivors are swiftly addressed.
We are grateful to our partners who continue to support our efforts at promoting the rights of persons with disabilities. This rally is made possible with support from the Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) Programme funded by the European Union and implemented by the British Council
Disability Right Advocacy Centre