Wheelchairs for Nigeria

July 2015 Newsletter

Last New Case of Polio in Nigeria: First Anniversary

July 24 marked the first anniversary of the last recorded case of paralysis from polio in Nigeria! A huge debt of gratitude goes to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who have spent billions in this eradication effort, also to Rotarians around the world who have given $1 billion, to the Bloomberg Foundation ($100 million), and many others. We remember the 10 polio workers killed by the Boko Haram 2 years ago and the hundreds of Nigerian health workers who risked their lives to vaccinate children in the dangerous northeast.

Wheelchairs for Nigeria in the News

A reporter from the AFP news service visited Ayuba and the Beautiful Gate workshop and filed a story and photos which have appeared in newspapers and online publications all over the world, including the Huffington Post, USA Today video, Yahoo News, Bangkok Post and at least 25 others. Watch another news story on Al Jazeera.

AFP — Wheelchairs for Nigeria: Getting Polio Survivors on the Move

JOS (NIGERIA) - Six new wheelchairs are lined up near the entrance of the Beautiful Gate Handicapped Peoples Center in the central Nigerian city of Jos. The chair's new owners — all of them polio survivors — crawl one by one to the three-wheeled machines with flip-flops on their hands, dragging atrophied, twisted legs and feet behind them.

One of them, James Goke, looks astonished to hear that on Friday Nigeria will not have had a case of polio in 12 months. "Really?" said the 49-year-old, who trains young polio survivors in new skills such as carpentry, metalwork and weaving, to give them financial independence. "That's marvelous."

As in Afghanistan and Pakistan — two countries that will remain on the list of endemic countries — Nigeria's battle against the disease has been hit by years of violence and misinformation. Vaccinators have been killed, warnings issued by some clerics that the jab was a Western plot to sterilize young Muslim girls, and Boko Haram attacks have hindered immunization drives in the remote northeast. But through government campaigns, support from churches, mosques and massive funding from global charities, the tide has finally turned.

Metal Bashing

Dealing with the aftermath of the disease, Ayuba Gufwan works to improve the lives of Nigerian polio survivors who have had to cope with a lifetime of hardship in a society ill-adapted for the disabled. At his workshop, 49 staff — seven of them polio survivors like him — including 17 young apprentices, spend the day bending, sawing, bashing and welding metal. On the concrete floor, thin sheets of steel are measured, mudguards are hammered into shape and frames are joined in an explosion of sparks. Rubber inner tubes and tyres are added to a shiny mountain of chrome wheels.

Red upholstery is stapled onto wooden boards to make seats. The end product is a wheelchair designed to be easily maintained with all the parts replaceable in any village bicycle repair shop. At 29,000 naira ($150) to make, they're given away free as long as the recipient is either in school or learning a trade. "We presented our 10,000th wheelchair last October," Gufwan told AFP.

False Limbs

In one room in the workshop, Habila Hasuna makes rudimentary prosthetic legs our of moulded rubber and chisels toes into a block of wood. Some are for clients whose lower limbs have been amputated because of polio, snake bites, road accidents or diabetes. Increasingly, he works for those maimed by Boko Haram attacks across northern Nigeria or in Jos itself. Plaster of Paris casts dry on a rack. "There's a lot of demand," he said, thumbing through a folder full of measurements. Some hospitals refer them to us. If the person is desperate, they'll pay 5,000 naira ($25), but hundreds have been free.

Dream Come True

Gufwan described the 12 months since Nigeria's last case of polio as a "milestone" for the country and the world. Personally, it's a "dream come true," he said. The 43-year-old contracted polio at age five but overcame losing the use of his legs to become a teacher and complete a law degree. This year he sought election for the Plateau State parliament. His aim was to improve disabled rights in the central Nigerian state and beyond, but he lost by just 700 votes.

The centre he set up in 1999 has received piecemeal funding over the years, including from Rotary Internati onal of which he is a member. A year ago he got a large grant from the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation of Nigeria. But largely it appears to survive on individual donations and enormous goodwill. More consistent funding would help broaden the charity's reach, he said, but he has an unusual aim. "By the time we have reached the very last polio survivor, we will shut down this place. I hope it's not such a long time."

Shift in Focus

Gufwan warned against premature triumphalism on Friday and called for Nigeria to remain vigilant, continuing mass immunization to prevent another generation from a life of unnecessary hardship. "My number one expectation would be that emphasis would now shift from eradication to rehabilitating the polio victims," he said. "They're here in the hundreds of thousands."

Out in the car park, James takes a test drive, turning the handles of the wheelchair, propelling it slowly forward. It bounces over the uneven, rocky ground and a smile stretches across his face. "This wheelchair is going to help us a very long way because of mobility," he said. "Sometimes we would like to go to some places and this chair will really aid us to do this."

Bloomberg Business — Nigeria Marks Gates-Backed Polio Feat as Survivors Neglected

For the first time Nigeria is set to eradicate polio as it marks one year with no new cases after billions of dollars spent by a global campaign backed by Bill and Melinda Gates and the United Nations. Though hitting the milestone on Friday, it will take two years monitoring before Nigeria, the last African polio-endemic country, can be certified as free of the virus, said Melissa Corkum, chief Nigeria spokeswoman at the United Nations Children's Fund. "If Nigeria comes off the list, there'll be only two countries left, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That will be historic. There's only one other disease that's ever been eradicated globally, and that's smallpox."

About $1 billion a year is being spent by partners of a worldwide polio eradication initiative, including the Gates Foundation, World Health Organization and Rotary. Nigeria has struggled to combat the virus due to past government inaction, while Boko Haram's six-year insurgency has slowed immunization efforts.

Little Support

While Nigeria has had more than 20,000[?] cases of polio since 1980, the campaign has focused on prevention, with little support provided to those already struck by the disease. At age 5, Ayuba Gufwan was paralyzed below the waist by polio. "It's our expectation that with the reduction in the incidence of polio, we can begin to focus on helping out neglected polio survivors," said Gufwan, 43, who has hired dozens of polio victims to build wheelchairs in the central city of Jos for those handicapped by the disease.

While almost a million people are members of the Nigerian Association of Polio Survivors, the total number of the victims is unknown, said Misbahuu Lawan Didi, the head of the Abuja-based group.

Maintain Surveillance

Didi said that survivors need mobility equipment, accessible infrastructure, community acceptance and education. "Once you had polio, you were seen as a beggar and that's slowly changing," he said. "If you have education you won't beg on the streets."

Even with no new cases being recorded, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative estimates as much as $250 million is required to maintain surveillance and laboratory capacity in countries of risk. "Once you have it, not much can be done given the resources that we have and where we need to allocate those." said Muhammad Pate, former Nigerian health minister who used to chair the presidential task force on polio. Nigeria could have paid more attention to rehabilitation, said Pate, but eradication was an achievable goal. "Just a few drops can prevent polio and yet we had hundreds of our kids — sometimes thousands — getting infected," he said.

Corrective Surgeries

Rotary has raised funds to carry out bi-annual corrective surgeries, train Nigerian doctors and fly in surgeons from India, said Tunji Funsho, chairman of Rotary's Nigerian polio committee. Yet only 780 free surgeries have been carried out on 353 survivors, out of nearly 600,000 candidates, according to Nigeria's National Primary Healthcare Development Agency.

Please help these polio survivors with a gift to Wheelchairs for Nigeria

Send your tax-deductible gift to Wheelchairs for Nigeria, 1542 Palm Ave SW. Seattle, WA 98116 or give online. Please consider an automatic monthly gift, as some of our supporters do, through bill pay at your bank or PayPal.

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