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Victim: I’m happy no other Tanzanian child has polio

AFRICA has been officially certified to be free of Indigenous wild polio virus. The announcement was made on 25th August 2020 at the virtual event held during the 70 meeting of the World Health Organization Regional Committee for Africa.

The last case of wild poliovirus in the African region was detected in 2016 in Nigeria. Chairperson of the African Regional Certification Commission for Polio eradication (ARCC) Professor Rose Gana Fomban Leke announced the historic milestone after the continent met the certification criteria for wild polio eradication that include completing a stretch of four years with no cases of the wild poliovirus reported.   

In Tanzania, the last case of polio was detected in 1996. Issa Ibrahim, was diagnosed with polio when he was three years old. Like other polio survivors, the 27-year-old lives with consequences of a disease that has not affected any other child in Tanzania since 1996.  The World Health Organization (WHO) has been working with the Government of Tanzania to support polio eradication initiatives which include vaccination since 1975.

“WHO have collaborated with Tanzania since the declaration of the World Health Assembly in 1988 to eradicated polio. Our experts provide technical support and we collaborate with MOH in ensuring all eligible children receive the lifesaving vaccines according to schedule, conducting active surveillance and vaccinations campaigns,” said Dr. William Mwengee, a vaccination technical officer at WHO Tanzania.

Since 1996, polio eradication efforts have prevented up to 1.8 million children from crippling life-long paralysis and saved approximately 180 000 lives.

Working with technical support from the WHO, the ministry of health followed guidelines and protocols to establish a vaccination network that has been able to deploy across the whole country.

“The immunization programme has grown from giving four vaccines to prevent six diseases in 1975 to a programme that gives nine vaccines to prevent 13 vaccine preventable diseases,” said the head of the immunization programme, Dr. Furaha Kyesi.

“It is a good thing that Tanzania have had no other child with polio since I was last diagnosed in 1996,” says Issa and adds that Africa will have more vibrant children and more health people.

Kind hearted, and religious, Issa pours his heart in happiness when he learns that there has been no other polio case in Tanzania and that Africa is celebrating kicking out polio.

Issa is among people that must live with consequences of polio in their bodies. Polio paralyzed muscles in his left limb. He walks with a stumble on deformed feet.

Without support from her husband Fatuma Issa, struggled to take care of her disabled infant. “Polio reversed him to laying when he had started lifting his legs to learn walking,” said Fatuma.

Issa’s mother recalls the sad irony on the day she noted something was seriously bad about her first born.

“On the very day our village got visitors from Ligula hospital who came to provide vaccination for children aged one month to five years I noticed Issa laying down and failing to move his legs,”

She was advised to take him to hospital where they confirmed—and informed her—it was polio.

“I took it from there and disagreed with advice from friends and family to take him to traditional medicine. I understood what polio was,” she says.

A mother that had smiled at her two-year-old’s hilarious baby steps, had to labour again and wait four more years to see him trying to walk again. Then she took him to school.

“Issa studied with enthusiasm and his teacher loved him. He never ranked below position two in his class, but I could not manage to keep him in school,” says Fatuma Issa Bakari, a peasant in Tangazo village in Mtwara rural district, South of Tanzania.

Without sufficient support to keep him in school Issa dropped out one year before completing primary education in 2007.

“In 2017 I moved to Dar es Salaam where I live with my auntie and his husband who is a mason,” he says.

The couple invited Issa to work with his uncle at building sites.  They live in Kigamboni suburb that is vibrant with new developments for corporates and family houses.

“I do all I can to make sure that I’m active and earn something whenever my uncle is working at a building site,” he says. Often his enthusiasm meets physical limitations.

Helping a mason means attending to physically demanding jobs at a building side. That include carrying blocks, concrete and cement mortar to bring to the mason to stack and lay mortar to build a wall. Sometimes that requires climbing make shift stairs carrying.

Often building sites are far away from settled areas, beyond the last commuter stops, therefore, Issa, must walk on foot long distances to and from work. 

“Often I have to use painkillers to relieve my muscles and legs after working long hours. Sometimes I must stop working altogether for sometimes,” he says and adds,

Despite his situation he was happy to learn that Africa is celebrating being free of wild polio.  “That is a good thing. No parent would like to see their children getting an illness that will affect them all their life.”

“Vaccination is very important. Without vaccination we will not be able to get people that are healthy.

This is big achievement for our country and for Africa. The fact that there are no more children found with polio like I was found in 1996 is a good thing because Africa and Tanzania are going to have children that are vibrant and capable.” said Issa.

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Author: ABELA MSIKULA

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