Ten years ago, Nigeria accounted for half of the world’s polio cases, but following an aggressive vaccination program, the African nation is on the verge of being declared polio-free. Despite the milestone, Nigeria’s many polio survivors are left to struggle with their disabilities, although one survivor has found a way to provide support and hope for thousands.
At the age of five, Ayuba Gufwan contracted polio, which led to paralysis in both legs.
Like other polio survivors, he struggled but eventually made it through school and became a lawyer.
After graduating, he opened “The Beautiful Gate Handicapped People’s Center,” which manufactures wheelchairs that are distributed for free to other polio survivors. Gufwan says his goal is to close the gap between polio eradication and rehabilitation of survivors.
“We discovered then and even now that the focus of polio eradication is prevention-centered. There was little or nothing that was done to take care and to ameliorate the suffering of polio victims,” Gufwan said.
Polio is a highly infectious viral disease that invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis within hours.
With a massive polio eradication initiative by the World Health Organization, polio cases decreased globally by more than 99% since 1988.
But beyond eradication, Gufwan’s center has helped about 18,000 survivors in Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, including Ibrahim Umar, who now works at the Beautiful Gate facility.
Umar says, “I started working here in 2016. Before then, I had no prior experience or training, but I have been getting a lot of help from them.”
Nigeria has not recorded a new, single polio case in three years – a major improvement since 2012 when it accounted for more than half of the world’s infections.
But the Abuja-based Disability Rights Advocacy Group (DRAC) says 40 percent of Nigeria’s 27 million disabled people are polio survivors.
At a demonstration to raise awareness of their plight, the director of the advocacy group, Irene Patrick, says polio eradication is incomplete unless the disabilities of survivors are addressed.
“Every year whenever we’re commemorating polio, the focus is on polio eradication, make sure all children get vaccinated, make sure mothers are vaccinating their children, make sure we kick polio out. But nobody thinks about those who have survived polio and are living with one form of disability or the other, and going through various challenges. So for us, that’s also a priority,” Patrick said.
Months ago, Nigeria’s National Assembly passed into law a bill to ensure that disabled people, including polio survivors, have better access.
But in the meantime, survivors like Gufwan are working to help those who have suffered from the effects of polio to improve their lives.