Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
Five-year-old Modu Busami, Nigeria’s last polio survivor, looks at his future as a big picture. Within his frail body and seeming small mind is a larger dream. The little boy wants to be a medical doctor.
Modu, who was about two years old in 2016, in Monguno, a town in the northern part of Borno State, was full of life until he was struck by what his parents thought was high fever.
“It started like malaria. His body was very hot and then we discovered he could no longer walk,” his father Bulama Kachalla, told Daily Sun. He said the intervention of some medical officials gave the family some relief that their only son would be well eventually.
But the family was faced with fresh fears when he started experiencing what looked like paralysis, said the mother, Aisha Alhaji.
“I was afraid I could lose the boy. I didn’t know what was wrong with him. It started like malaria and later he couldn’t walk,” the mother said.
Medical experts said he was positive for circulating Vaccine-Derived Polio Virus type 2 (Cvdpv2) known as wild polio. The mother said the ‘strange’ news devastated the family, adding that she thought he would never come back better.
“But the medical expatriates were always coming. They were always coming to see the boy, to give him the polio vaccine and to also support us,” the father added.
Modu’s parents were not the only ones devastated by the new polio case reported then in August 2016. Nigeria and Nigerians as well as partners in the campaigns to end polio in Africa were taken aback.
Paulinme Ibrahim, who headed the Journalists Against Polio (JAP) group in Borno, noted that: “It was a step backward in the campaign to end polio then because we were looking forward to Nigeria being declared polio-free.”
Today, Modu is free, walking with ease after a three-year battle with the crippling virus. And he would not give up his dreams of becoming a medical doctor. His father said his wish for the boy was to go to school to make his dream a reality.
“The only challenge we have now is the education of this boy. We want him to go to school and be educated. He also wants to be a doctor, to be treating people as he was treated,” Kachalla said.
United Nations country coordinator, Mr. Edward Kallon, while on a visit to Modu in Maiduguri with some WHO officials described the five-year-old boy as a symbol of hope. He said it was an opportunity to bring back hope and life to people affected by the deadly disease.
“Now that polio is eradicated in Nigeria and Africa, we can see that a small man like Modu is again back into society. He is again back to become a productive member of his family and the society he belongs,” Kallon stated.
He also presented a computer from Borno State to the boy. He said the computer was a renewal of hope after the polio affliction. “I am really pleased seeing Modu, the last case, standing with us this morning. It gives me inspiration that where there is a will, there is a way,” he said.
World Health Organisation (WHO) country representative in Nigeria, Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo, urged Nigerians to step up surveillance and vaccination to prevent return of polio to the country from the two nations, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the virus still exists.
“Polio anywhere is a risk of polio reintroduction everywhere. So, we need to remain vigilant, to continue surveillance, to make sure that all children get immunised so that we keep immunisation coverage high enough, to protect all children until such time when global eradication is achieved when we don’t have any Wild Polio Virus (WPV) in those two countries,” he said.
He said WHO’s target was to ensure global eradication of the virus, and he called on parents and guardians to make their children and wards available for vaccination. He commended Modu’s parents for not giving up on the vaccination of their son despite the affliction.
Efforts by Nigeria to end polio in the country earlier were halted by Modu’s case in August 2016. However, no other case has been reported since then, making him the last case in Africa. The Africa Regional Certification Commission, an independent assessor, last month declared the country polio-free after achieving no case in four years.