Few days ago 9 health workers (polio vaccinators) were gunned down in Kano, largely because some people erroneously see them as agents of the western world in grand scheme to depopulate the Muslim North, and must be resisted by all means, even violently. Even as I hate this action, and finds it difficult to understand how anyone will murder people who came to assist in keeping their children safe, and give them a chance at a better life, I understand where the origin of resistance. Some people this resistance to the polio vaccine, or any other one for that matter, is a new phenomenon. No, it is not. It dates back to 1960s and 1970s.
While in Primary school in the 1970s, some health works came to our streets and schools to give us the Cerebral Meningitis shots, many parents at the time refused to allow their children to be immunized/vaccinated (not sure of the right term to use). In my area alone in Tudun Wada Zaria, we had more than 200 of my peers, who were candidates for the shots. But many parents hid their kids. Mine insist I was given. I was lucky. In fact as a kid under 10, I took it almost 3 times same day, in a childish and foolish attempt to show my friends how brave I’m, and that the shot is harmless. I was hospitalized for that exuberant act. However, some other kids whose parents refuse to allow them, secretly took theirs in schools. But others who were denied were not so lucky. I have 6 childhood friends, who (today) cannot speak or hear without a hearing or speaking tool, and they are even luckier than some who died simply because the parents were convinced that it is a Western conspiracy to depopulate us.
To confirm this, anytime you are in Tudun Wada, ask for or visit a very popular shop whose tailors have hearing or speaking problems. They are all in their late 40s now, but are considered the best tailors, whose patronage range from Kaduna, Kano, Abuja and other parts, especially by current female students of ABU (Congo Campus), and even those who left years ago. The sad part is they were handicapped by a decision taken for them more than 40 years ago.
My experience has also taught me not to completely blame those who refuse to have their children vaccinated. Their refusal to accept the vaccines, and their vulnerability to manipulations is a product of our collective experience. Apart from fear of depopulation of Muslims, (I believe) the refusal by some people in Kano came in the wake of a major crisis when Pfizer tested trovafloxacin on children in 1996 without actually letting people know that it was a trial drug, in which about 200 children were said to have die. The case is still in Court as Kano state seeks about $1billion in compensation for the victims. The West also tested so many family planning initiatives in the 3rd world, because they see the populations of these countries as burden to them. They conduct these types of tests secretly, and in a way that they dare not try in their own countries. These and many other illegal/unethical activities, especially of the giant pharmaceutical companies, led to conspiracy theories and rise of theorists everywhere. If you think these people are crazy, then walk a mile in their shoes you will be crazy too (apologies 2pac Shakur). You need to understand their experiences, fears and suspicions first.
And when you add up many of these irresponsible acts of the West governments and companies, the selfishness of the so-called “religio-politico” leaders, then the poor man whose children some of these vaccines are designed to help is tleft with nothing but suspicion. That’s why it is easy to convince people that something that can save their children was actually planned to kill them or stop them from having their own children when they are finally ready to have them. We don’t need anyone remind us that same vaccines were rejected in India, until the India Government started producing their own? We need not also be reminded of the conspiracy theories of the origins of HIV/AIDS?
Then you add up selfish rulers/leaders who are using people’s collective experience with SOME Western countries and companies to devastating effect on the people. The sad part is when academics join the bandwagon of conspiracy theorists. If you have issues with the vaccine or have proof that it is design to harm not help, then present your evidence to your peers to review. And as Dr. Abdullahi Dahiru, argued several times, why not post your findings in a science/medical journals or present them in some major conferences for scrutiny, verification and confirmation? But NO, the usual port of call for these professors is Newspapers, TV stations or Radio houses. Or are they afraid of peer review?
Again, we are in a country where people “dress fine” every Friday or Sunday to mosque and church, and are always ready to flash the qur’an or bible in your face to prove to you how Islamic or Christian they are, but are actually to deep into their archaic cultures and superstition that you wonder why they bother to read these Holy Books or even bother praying; for they are so deep into superstition, suspicion and conspiracies to believe anything. We believe anything. It is a country where people actually believe that when they answer some phone numbers, they will just go off and die or disappear from the face of the earth; a country where religious leaders also convince followers that the Suya guy, the Carrot, water melon and pawpaw hawker will poison them; a country, where some months ago in Kaduna people were made to start looking at the faces of drivers and achaba (commercial bike) riders to see if they can easily tell their religion or tribe, because the bus driver/rider will drive them into River Kaduna. A country where in the morning, the Imam/Pastor tells you that the solution to our problems are all in the Qur’an/Bible, but later that night, same people visit the witch doctor, babalawo or boka in his shrine. In this type of country, it is definitely going to be easy for our religious, traditional and opinion leaders, to rightly or wrongly, convince their followers that the polio shots will either kill or stop their children from been productive in 15 to 30 years time.
Because I believe that using polio vaccines as a tool for depopulating people is a difficult and unrealistic target, my usual reaction to people who reject any vaccine is not to challenge their beliefs or assumptions, but to ask them simple questions to a situation I also consider simple; not with with too much data, complex reasoning or aggression. That never achieve anything, especially when people believe there is conspiracy planned against them. Just ask them the following questions, and if they have a change of heart for the benefit of their children, then it is good for us all. If they still don’t, you have to let it go. The questions are simple:
<> Does polio exist? If it does, what is its cause? Can we cure it? If we can’t cure it, can we prevent it? How do we prevent it then, and with what and by whom?
<> The Indian government didn’t trust the same West, and they provide alternatives for the Western vaccines for their people; they created their own vaccines. What alternatives do we have? Crippling our children is surely not an alternative, so what is our alternative?
<> If there is a conspiracy out there to stop us from having babies, why would the west wait until 15 to 21 years, when they can target today’s adult? Why wait? The so called target children between 1 – 6 years, right?
<> Why should the West focus only on polio vaccine? Why not Coke, Milk, and other Can Foods, Benelyn syrup, flagyl, paracetamol which are things we cannot do without or even the Chemicals used in our water, Cigarrates, Cell phones etc?
<> Some people say why not focus on Malaria, and hunger, as if they don’t. The question is, will we accept help from the West on Malaria, and hunger; and what stop the wicked west from using them to stop us from giving birth to children?
<> And when people make the decision to help and set up foundations, it is their prerogative to decide which cause is paramount to their hearts, for some it is Malaria (e.g. CAF, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation etc), for Yakubu Gowon and Jimmy Carter, their cause is to eradicate guinea/ring worm, for some it is provision of clean water, and for others it is HIV?AIDS, others education etc. If that is the case, why do we want to choose for people where their money is spent? Where are our governments and rich people?
These are simple questions we need to start asking ourselves. Then make whatever decisions we need to make for our children, and our the future of our region. And it is not going to be by one side antagonizing them and the other misinforming them. They need to have all the necessary information they can get to make informed decision for their children’s health and welfare.
Credits : Hassan Mohammed
NB: This article was written February 2013