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Sabee AppNearly 200 million people currently live in Nigeria. Out of all the children in the world who are not attending school, one in five of those children live in Nigeria. The statistics of education in Nigeria paint a bleak picture as only 61% of children aged 6-11 attend primary school on a regular basis. Furthermore, in 2018, only 20% of Nigerian adults who finished primary school were literate. However, Nigeria might be turning the corner in education as many educational tech startups focus on facilitating education in Nigeria. Facebook is the latest company to invest in the development of Nigerian education through the Sabee app.

Education in Nigeria

At the moment, Nigeria’s education system suffers from a severe lack of funding. In 2020, Nigeria dedicated only 6.7% of its annual budget to education even though UNESCO recommends that a government should allocate a minimum of 15% of the annual budget toward education. Therefore, Nigeria allocates far less than is recommended.

Although education is free in Nigeria, Nigerian public schools do not have many teachers. In some regions, the teacher-to-student ratio is an astounding 1:73. The schools also lack the vital resources needed to learn and lack quality and clean facilities. There is also insufficient training for teachers in schools. The government does not have established guidelines for hiring teachers, leaving students with inadequately trained instructors. Unqualified staff means the quality of learning severely decreases.

Lastly, terrorism has impacted the learning ability of Nigerian students. Due to the Boko Haram group terrorizing the northern parts of the country, less than half of female students in Northern Nigeria attend school. Furthermore, the ongoing violence has left many schools damaged and destroyed.

The History of the Sabee App

Sabee is an educational app that “aims to connect learners and teachers in online communities to make educational opportunities more accessible.” Facebook aims to develop Sabee as a part of its long-term investment strategy in Africa. Since most people will live in urbanized areas by 2030, and with Africa’s population rising fast, Facebook wants to establish a market in the African region. The platform particularly focuses on Nigeria. This decision is based on studies that estimate that Nigeria will become the second-most populated country by the turn of the century.

The Nigerian word “sabi,” which means “to know,” is the inspiration behind the app’s name, Sabee. The Sabee app will increase access to educational opportunities and bridge the literacy gap in Nigeria. With COVID-19 still affecting many parts of the world without vaccine access, the Sabee app will help many gain access to education remotely. In addition, the Sabee app seeks to address the poor literacy rates of Nigerian women and girls.

Development and Implementation of Sabee

Currently, more than 100 million Nigerians have access to the internet and more than 95% of internet users utilize mobile broadband data. Additionally, 250,000 new internet users in Nigeria were online by the end of 2019. Facebook aims to ensure Sabee works with 2G networks to make it accessible to more people, even those with less advanced internet connections.

As of now, the app is in the testing phase, “with fewer than 100 testers” assessing the app. Facebook plans to develop the app further based on the testers’ feedback and implement another phase of testing before the close of 2021.

Several technology startups and companies such as Facebook are investing in improving the system of education in Nigeria. However, to make a lasting impact, Nigeria must dedicate more of its resources toward ensuring quality education for all youth.

– Matthew Port Louis
Photo:Flickr

Hunger in Nigeria
Nigeria is currently facing a daunting challenge that impacts the lives of millions in the country: hunger. Hunger in Nigeria has been escalating in recent months for various reasons and it has received international attention.

The Scale of the Crisis

Hunger in Nigeria is an immense problem that is currently putting millions at risk in the country. Between the three northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, almost 4.5 million people are now at risk of hunger. Of that 4.5 million, more than 700,000 are at imminent risk of starving to death.

Economics and Food

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a critical contributing factor in the ongoing rise in hunger in Nigeria. Unemployment has skyrocketed in the country, as one-third of the population does not have a job. Additionally, 70% of Nigerians have lost at least one form of income because of the pandemic.

Food inflation has also skyrocketed, worsening the state of hunger. Food inflation reached a 15-year high in 2021, rising to 22.95% in March. Import restrictions on rice and rising fuel costs have both contributed to this inflation.

Overall inflation and poverty levels have been on the rise, further compounding the hunger crisis. Inflation in Nigeria is the highest in the region, and the World Bank predicts the 2021 Nigerian inflation to be 16.5%. The inflation prediction for the sub-Saharan Africa region, excluding Nigeria, is only 5.9%. In the past year, food price inflation alone has accounted for 70% of Nigeria’s inflation.

The economic fallout of the pandemic could put more than 11 million Nigerians in poverty by 2022. The effects of the pandemic created a dangerous mix of unemployment, increased poverty, increased overall inflation, increased food inflation and widespread loss of income.

Conflict and Hunger

Conflict in Nigeria has contributed to the current hunger crisis. The impact of conflict in Nigeria is especially apparent with food inflation. Food costs have risen due to conflict between farmers and herders in the agricultural sector, as well as the ongoing insurgency by the Boko Haram terrorist organization.

Further, the ongoing conflict has made the state of hunger in Nigeria even worse by displacing many Nigerians. The states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, which are at high risk of widespread hunger, have also seen mass displacement due to conflict. In recent years, 8.7 million people have experienced displacement in these states due to the violence that “non-state armed groups” instigated

These large numbers of displaced persons often move into host communities that are ill-suited to the task. Such communities end up under the tremendous strain, as they have insufficient supplies, including food, to serve their newly enlarged populations.

Armed conflicts that prevent humanitarian aid from reaching those who need it is complicating the addressing of this crisis. Estimates indicate that aid cannot reach more than 800,000 people who live in areas that non-state armed groups control.

Aid Efforts

International organizations are trying to address hunger in Nigeria. The U.N. and other international organizations have continued to provide food assistance in Nigeria thanks to a process called localization. This process involves international organizations partnering with local NGOs to assist those in need, which enables local people, who might understand more, to help with local problems.

This coalition of organizations has provided support to camps for internally displaced persons. For example, the World Food Programme (WFP) has given starving Nigerians money to purchase food. However, this assistance has had a limited scope, as some camps only offer food support to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. All of these efforts to assist have not proven to be enough to address the crisis. 

Looking Ahead

Much work remains to address the current state of hunger in Nigeria. The U.N.-led coalition of organizations is attempting to reach more than 6 million Nigerians with humanitarian aid. However, this effort has received limited funding as it has only garnered 20% of the necessary funds.

To address this crisis, a significant amount of funding is necessary. The U.N. is calling for $250 million in food aid to meet Nigeria’s severe hunger situation.

The situation of hunger in Nigeria is in a state of crisis. Millions of Nigerians are at high risk of becoming food insecure, and hundreds of thousands are at risk of starving to death. Conflict, widespread displacement and high food inflation all impact the hunger situation in Nigeria. While a coalition of organizations provides as much aid as possible to those at risk, these organizations need more support from the international community.

– Coulter Layden
Photo: Flickr

Improve Girls' Education in NigeriaFor women in Nigeria, education is a privilege because not all of them have access to it. Some people in Nigeria see education as a commodity and there are many children currently out of school. The Malala Fund estimates that 30% of girls aged 9-12 in Nigeria have never been to school. The children who are in school are more likely to be male. Some families have faced violence for sending their daughters to school. Nigeria faces several challenges in education but organizations are fighting to improve girls’ education in Nigeria.

Fears of Retaliation

In 2018, 13.2 million Nigerian children were out of school and 60% of them were girls. At the time, this was the highest number in the world. Many parents cannot afford to send their children to school and often do not have access to transportation. Free primary education helps, but it is not enough. Others fear retaliation from sending their daughters to school. In 2018, Boko Haram abducted 110 schoolgirls as a message to parents. Boko Haram was very vocal when speaking out against Western education.

In 2021, Boko Haram still controls much of the northeastern part of Nigeria. Boko Haram has a distaste for Western education. In fact, the Islamist militant group’s name loosely translates to “western education is forbidden.” The 2018 kidnapping of 110 schoolgirls was not the group’s first attempt to stop girls’ education in Nigeria. Almost seven years ago, Boko Haram “took 276 girls from their school in Chibok in northeast Nigeria.” Many of these girls are still missing. Inciting fear is one of the ways Boko Haram keeps parents from sending their daughters to school.

Societal Norms

Girls accounted for 60% of children out of school in Nigeria. Poverty, child marriage, societal norms and violence are some of the reasons this rate is so high. Some of these girls had never been to school at all. Not seeing the value in sending their daughters to school if students are not receiving a quality education, families frequently marry girls off instead. Girls’ education in Nigeria has societal impacts as well. When girls have a secondary education, child mortality rates drop, child marriage rates decline and the lifetime earnings of girls increase. These positive outcomes help better society.

Ties With Poverty

One can also tie the lack of girls’ education in Nigeria to its poverty rate. In 2019, the poverty rate in Nigeria was 40% of the population, which equaled roughly 83 million people living below the poverty line. Northern Nigeria has low-quality education, which often means girls often do not get the education they need to thrive.

Period poverty is another factor that has impacted girls’ education in Nigeria over the years. Not being able to afford menstrual products has discouraged girls from going to school when menstruating. Menstrual products are a luxury that many cannot afford. Period poverty leads to many girls and women skipping work or school. Poor menstrual hygiene can lead to urinary tract infections and period poverty can cause depression or anxiety. All these factors can affect a girl’s education.

Previous Projects to Improve Girls’ Education in Nigeria

The Girls’ Education Project initially began in Nigeria in 2004. The focus was on supporting the Nigerian government in its efforts to achieve universal basic and primary education. A subsection of the project was the Girls’ Education Project 3 Cash Transfer Programme. Nigeria implemented it from 2014 to 2016 to improve girls’ education in Nigeria. The program mitigated the impact poverty had on girls’ enrollment in school. Through this program, social and economic opportunities for girls increased. More girls in Nigeria also completed basic education.

In 2020, UNICEF in Nigeria received a grant of $140,000. The grant went toward an online digital platform and strengthening states’ radio and television education programs as well as providing activity books, worksheets and assessment cards. The aid came amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a major impact on the education of children. UNICEF also provides “psychosocial support to children and teachers” and secures wash and hygiene resources for schools.

Today’s Efforts

UNICEF has implemented a program that aims to give all children access to quality education in a safe learning environment. This will take time, but its goal is to help the government achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The key areas of focus for the program are access, learning and skills for emergencies and fragile contexts.

This means providing “gender-equitable access to quality education from a young age, quality learning outcomes and skills development and improved learning and protection for children in emergencies and on the move.” In 2021, 60 million schoolchildren gained access to primary or secondary education.

UNICEF has also established a girls’ education program that focuses on gender equality in education. By giving girls access to a safe education, inequality is reduced, allowing girls to reach their full potential. UNICEF helps governments and schools eliminate gender gaps in education, focusing on teacher training and removing gender stereotypes from learning materials. With help from organizations such as UNICEF, girls’ education in Nigeria will soon become commonplace.

– Ariel Dowdy
Photo: Flickr

Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon
Since November 2016, the Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon has been ongoing, which is an issue that links to its population’s identity. A section of the English-speaking minority population of the country, originally from the northwest and southwest regions of the country, is protesting against the current government. Their claims mostly focus on the marginalization of the English language, the lack of access to English education, the common law system and even jobs for native anglophone Cameroonians. The conflict started with a peaceful protest from anglophone lawyers and teachers and escalated with the emergence of an anglophone separatist movement. As the situation remains tense, the attention of the international community is necessary.

The State of Affairs

Beyond the language and identity claims, this conflict collides with other threats, such as Boko Haram, that have significantly weakened the economy of the country, especially in the northwest and southwest regions. In 2018, the National Organization of Employers, Gicam, reported that about 45% of the cocoa produced in the country is in the southwest, and 75% of Cameroonian arabica coffee comes from the northwest. Export earnings from these two commodities have fallen by 20% due to the conflict in the English-speaking area, where a fifth of the total population lives. Moreover, an increase in unemployment and the shutting down of businesses has occurred. Human Rights Watch estimates nearly 300 Cameroonians have died since January 2020 in regions of concern, and over 1 million have experienced internal displacement. In such a context, foreign aid could be particularly beneficial, but things are not that simple.

The Challenges of Foreign Aid

Through time, Cameroon has received foreign aid from countries and institutions such as France, the United States and the World Bank. In September 2020, Cameroonian Foreign Minister Lejeune Mbella Mbella asked for increased international cooperation in support of the country’s ongoing struggle against “terrorism.” Moreover, the UN OCHA has launched a Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) that identified 3.9 million people in need. Estimates determined that the initiative would provide $320.7 million USD.

Despite some previous successes of foreign aid programs in Cameroon, challenges remain, especially in the context of the current Anglophone Crisis. Firstly, aid and humanitarian workers are highly at risk, which slows down their work. In January 2020, pro-independence fighters kidnapped seven aid workers from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation and the COMINSUD. Although they later released all staff, the abductions resulted in several organizations restricting their area of operations.

Secondly, cooperation with the government tends to be difficult sometimes. Indeed, Cameroonian authorities have publicly charged NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Think Tank International Crisis Group – among other organizations – of working to “destabilize state institutions.” Resistance also comes over concerns of aid distribution, as Cameroon ranks 152 out of 180 countries in the 2018 Transparency International corruption perceptions index, and it ranks 166 out of 190 economies in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 report.

Good News and Solutions

Despite remaining challenges and perceptions, foreign aid has had some success in Cameroon in the past, which keeps some humanitarian workers optimistic, even during the Anglophone Crisis. Indeed, the poverty rate has dropped from 53% in 1996 to 37.5% in 2014. As many organizations continue to provide humanitarian aid to Cameroon, some experts remain optimistic that the living conditions of Cameroonians will continue to improve. The work of state and nonprofit actors continues to reap positive results, though the improvements cannot always occur easily. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is one of the organizations providing support to the country.

To improve these good results, it appears important to address the different obstacles to the redistribution of foreign aid in Cameroon. For this purpose, both the state and civil society level initiate actions. Indeed, at the civil society level, international organizations such as the World Bank have developed a performance-based system – Country Policy and institutional Assessment – that allows the institution to evaluate the qualification of a country to receive aid while reducing the risks of corruption.

This kind of mechanism can be a standard for international NGOs providing financial assistance to Cameroon. At the state level, the Cameroonian government has made another step towards its decentralization process. Indeed, regional advisors have undergone recent election. Their role is to foster the development of their localities while remaining accountable to the people. These new authorities can increase transparency and can use their knowledge of the local dynamics to help humanitarian workers in the distribution of aid.

Jules Sombaye
Photo: Flickr

5 Social Issues Dividing NigeriaNigeria, one of the biggest exporters of oil and the most populated country in Africa, is living through severe poverty. In one day, Nigeria can produce 2.5 million barrels of crude oil. Starting at only $30 per barrel, Nigeria is battling high production costs with extremely low oil costs. With oil prices falling, high unemployment rates and rampant poverty, Nigeria stands divided. As of 2019, the National Bureau of Statistics shows that 40% of the population in Nigeria is living below the poverty line. But poverty is not the only thing halting Nigeria’s progress, social issues also stand in the way of furthering the country. Organizations such as Global Giving, a nonprofit that gives people a chance to fundraise globally for up and coming charity projects, is targeting some of Nigeria’s social issues.

5 Social Issues Dividing Nigeria

  1. Poverty — Even though Nigeria is one of the top crude oil producers in Africa, its government has neglected to spread the wealth into rural communities. Instead of funding necessities such as proper infrastructure, much of oil producers’ revenue is given to the “rich elite.” With a population of 195 million people, 40% are living below the poverty line. To live below the poverty line means that families in Nigeria make less than 137,430 Naira per year. This is equivalent to $381.75.
  2. Unemployment — Currently Nigeria’s unemployment rate is at an all-time high, with 27.1% of the population left without a job. This accounts for every one in two people. According to Quartz Africa, 27.1 million people are out of work in Nigeria. This is due to the government struggling to create new jobs to boost the economy. According to the World Bank, “Given that the economy is expected to grow more slowly than the population, living standards are expected to worsen.”
  3. Corruption — Transparency International has declared Nigeria one of Africa’s most corrupt countries as of 2016. Listed 146 out of 180 countries, corruption in Nigeria is a significant factor holding its people back from raising themselves out of poverty. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, bribery, nepotism and voter buying and three other factors all contribute to the corruption and poverty in Nigeria. “Some of the Nigerian politicians and people in ruling offices in just one year make as much as other citizens would make in 65 years,” states Effecting Change In Nigeria in its platform.
  4. Education — In Nigeria, education inequality is a major issue. Due to gender-based biases, girls’ education is not valued as much as boys. Additionally, Muslim girls receive favor over Christian girls when it comes to receiving a proper education. What region you live in also plays an important factor in education. Girls living in the northeast are more likely to get an education than those living in the northwest although the numbers are not that far from each other. According to UNICEF, 47.7% of girls are out of school in the northeast compared to 47.3% of girls in the northwest. This is almost half of all girls in Nigeria.
  5. Terrorism — Boko Haram, meaning “western education is forbidden,” is a terrorist group in Nigeria. Boko Haram is against adopting western culture; this includes voting, dressing differently and secular education. Since 2011 this terrorist group has killed more than 35,000 people and continues to attack villages, police stations and religious or political groups. The group gained national attention in 2014 when they kidnapped more than 200 girls from a local school.

Global Giving

Global Giving is an organization that connects other nonprofits with potential donors. It works with individual donors, other nonprofits and companies to help them safely donate anywhere in the world. Since 2002, Global Giving has assisted in raising $526 million for causes around the globe. So far, 27,941 projects are in place in 170 different countries.

One project Global Giving is helping with is the Empowering Victims of Boko Haram Violence in Nigeria project. The Center for Sustainable Development and Education In Africa started this project to help victims of Boko Haram. The project aims to build a “skills acquisition center” in North-Eastern Nigeria to give support to rape victims, widows and others the terrorist group affected. In two years, the project raised $28,500.

The CSDEA has another project called Save Street Children in Nigeria. The goal of this project is to help 1.5 million homeless children get off the streets. If the project raises $25,000 then 10,000 children can go to school and receive food and shelter. In the past two years, the cause has collected $1,055. One can make donations at Global Giving’s projects.

– Jessica LaVopa
Photo: Flickr 

Mental Health in Northern NigeriaNorthern parts of Nigeria have become the epicenter of brutal and violent attacks carried about by the notorious militant ISIS group, Boko Haram. Many victims are left with painfully traumatic memories that develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Functioning normally is impossible for those affected by PTSD and northeast Nigeria only has a single mental health institute. Nonprofits advocating for mental health in northern Nigeria have taken to Twitter and other forms of social media to provide guidance and healing to help bridge the gap.

Mental Health in Northern Nigeria

The treatment of mental illness and the ability to treat different disorders varies from country to country. In Nigeria, three of every 10 people suffer from mental illness. Constant disruptive violence weighs heavily on the psyche and with northern Nigeria becoming known as “Boko Haram’s Den” it is not surprising that a single facility cannot handle the number of people in need. Out of every 100,000 people, 17 of them commit suicide in Nigeria, ranking the country seventh in Africa for suicide.

The NEEM Foundation

Founded in 2017, the NEEM Foundation’s primary focus is to pave the road for mental health in Nigeria to improve, with free treatments primarily centering on victims of Boko Haram.

NEEM’s plan of action has been to send counselors and psychiatrists out on small motorized bikes to aid families affected by the terrorist group. These volunteers are also sent to families and individuals who escaped the group after being forced to join. The people that are lucky enough to escape from forced involvement submerge back into society without mental health check-ins or assessments, making them a possible danger to themselves or others. Mental health in Nigeria as a whole is not given enough funding to offer these services, despite the severity.

Last year alone, NEEM and its team of experts were able to provide care for 7,000 patients. Its work is primarily focused on children suffering from trauma due to the terrorist group, by setting up group therapy sessions for children and youth to attend. To boost available counselors, NEEM founded a nine-month training program in Maiduguri where college graduates of science or lay counselors are trained to become child psychologists. Adding more trained counselors and psychologists furthers NEEM’s reach and ability to give the mental healthcare needed by victims in Nigeria.

Moving Help Online

In total, the country of Nigeria only has eight mental health facilities, leaving a lot of ground to be covered by nonprofits like NEEM. The organization Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI) is using WhatsApp and Twitter in order to reach as many Nigerians in crises as possible and provide free mental health first aid.

Mental health in northern Nigeria is a problem that grows with its population of victims and refugees. By using free social media platforms in lieu of physical counseling, organizations are able to extend their reach to those in need.

– Amanda Rogers
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health Services and Online Therapy in NigeriaIn a country with a population of nearly 200 million, there are only 250 psychiatrists in Nigeria. These services mostly exist in urban areas. With 70% of the population in rural communities, it is difficult to access mental health services. One in four Nigerians suffer from mental illnesses, so there is a high need for these services, specifically therapy.

Mental Health Services

In Nigeria, there are limited resources for mental health services. An estimated 80% of people with mental illnesses are not able to access the correct care facilities. The majority of care is in the hand of family members, who are not properly trained or informed. The lack of facilities, resources and proper information on mental health services and illnesses worldwide is why the World Health Organization (WHO) is determined to help. In a 2013 mental health action plan, the WHO planned to have 50% of countries by 2020 update or expand on its law in order to revise with the international and regional human rights instructions.

Militant Group Causes Need for Therapy

One significant reason for the need for therapy in Nigeria is the militant group Boko Haram in the northeastern part of the country. The group has been trying to gain more territory, and in doing so, it has caused more than 20,000 deaths and nearly 1.8 million people displaced from their homes, according to a June 2019 report. In Maiduguri, the group’s violence has affected almost the entire population. Due to the ongoing brutality, many are suffering from post-traumatic stress, and the WHO recorded that Nigeria has the seventh-highest number of suicides in Africa.

Online Therapy in Nigeria

Nearly 103 million Nigerians have access to the Internet. As such, receiving virtual therapy is far easier than traveling to one of the few facilities in the country. A typical therapy session can be about $70 a meeting, which is unaffordable for most of the population since the minimum wage is $49 a month. Online therapy makes for an easier and a more reasonable form of care.

Additionally, online therapy is an easier option for some because it does not require the person to be face to face with the therapist. The patient is able to have these conversations from the comfort of their own home. Services like Talkspace, Calmerry and Amwell include packages that can be paid for weekly, and some even accept insurance. These packages may also include unlimited messages, live video chats and phone calls. All of the programs also go through a questionnaire process to match the patient with the best therapist for them.

Another program, MANI, is run through Twitter and WhatsApp. The nonprofit mental health service has counselors that are volunteer psychiatrists and medical officers. Since volunteers run the program, a patient cannot receive more than five sessions. However, the suicide hotline is always free to call.

It is clear that Nigeria needs more mental health services. Therapy is hard to access and often too expensive. With the country’s rising population, there is still a long way to go in order to provide reasonable access to people suffering from mental illnesses. However, through these online programs, therapy in Nigeria is increasing. Additionally, with the growing amount of Internet access, there is now an increase in the availability of these services.

Sarah Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

Fighting extremism in West AfricaWhile mainly known for causing violence and havoc in the Middle East, Islamic extremists have been expanding their presence in the West African and Sahel regions for years. Most of these groups are affiliated with either the Islamic State (such as Boko Haram) or Al Qaeda (such as Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimi). These groups have carried out unspeakable atrocities in the West African region: kidnapping schoolgirls, recruiting child soldiers, targeting civilian markets and villages, committing massacres against herders and killing American special forces operators. As a result of these actions, nearly one million people in Burkina Faso have been internally displaced, along with 240,000 in Mali and a near half-million from Nigeria.

Poverty Brings Extremists to West Africa

West Africa is an attractive target for jihadist groups because of its extreme poverty levels, lack of government law enforcement and scarcity of basic services. In West Africa, 30% of the population lives on around $1.90 a day; in Nigeria, 60% of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. Government services such as electricity and education are also lacking; 70% of impoverished girls in Niger never attended primary school.

In exchange for recruits, jihadist groups are providing services such as medical aid, protection and access to water. It is widely known that poverty creates conditions advantageous to radical groups. For instance, Boko Haram has pushed into the Lake Chad region, which suffers from particularly poor governance. They use the area as a base to conduct offensive operations against the surrounding villages. The same strategy has helped many radical groups gain traction in West Africa. Knowing this illuminates how to fight extremism in West Africa.

The Path Forward

One path toward fighting extremism in West Africa is providing basic services to the local population. Many governments’ military forces have had a reputation for human rights abuses. They are now trying to win over local populations by providing vital services. This helps governments gain legitimacy in the minds of the people, while it helps them combat terrorism.

Another solution is an initiative known as African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA), which aims to create a single market in the African Union. Such an agreement would create a large free trade zone that would increase the prosperity of many countries in the African Union. This will address some of the socioeconomic conditions that create weak states. These conditions often make regions vulnerable to radical groups, so AfCTA can also help fight extremism in West Africa. The United States, particularly Congress and the White House, has largely supported this initiative.

Fighting extremism in West Africa will require multi-level analysis and solutions. Focusing on military-oriented solutions may seem tempting, but these are only short-term quick fixes. Instead, new organizations and initiatives must address the root causes of extremism. Increasing governmental support and bringing prosperity to the people of West Africa is the surest way to prevent jihadist groups from gaining greater influence in the region.

Mustafa Ali
Photo: Flickr

Nigeria Beat Polio
Like many countries in Africa, Nigeria has historically had to deal with serious diseases. One such disease that has been a prominent issue for the country is polio. Polio is an infectious disease that the poliovirus causes. The most common symptoms of polio are fevers, sore throats and nausea, among others. In more severe cases, polio can induce paralysis and meningitis, an infection that affects the spinal cord and brain. Recently, Nigeria beat polio by increasing vaccinations.

Polio Vaccines in Nigeria

The Nigerian government banned vaccinations for the poliovirus in 2003 amid fears they caused Muslim girls to become sterile and helped spread AIDS throughout the region. Around this time, reports stated an outbreak of polio cases throughout Nigeria, as well as many other parts of Africa. Afterward, United Nations officials convinced the then governor of Kano that the vaccinations were safe, although the virus continued to plague Nigeria.

In 2007, reports stated that many new cases of polio in Nigeria came as a result of a mutated vaccine. Normally the polio vaccine involves an injection with a more mild version of the poliovirus. Around this time, however, the vaccines appeared to have helped induce polio instead. This increased people’s concern over vaccinations and many did not perceive them to be a good idea, although it the United Nation’s World Health Organization (WHO) stressed the rarity of these mutations.

According to WHO, Nigeria accounted for more than half of all polio cases in 2012. However, WHO also reported that the country made great efforts since then to reduce the incidents of polio, including “increased community involvement and the establishment of Emergency Operations Centers at the national and state-level.” These efforts have allowed the Nigerian government to respond to outbreaks more efficiently and carry out vaccinations accordingly.

A Reduction in Polio Cases

According to WHO, Nigeria went two years from 2014 to 2016 without any cases of polio. WHO has attributed this to the Nigerian government’s efforts to combat the disease. However, this period quickly came to an end on August 2016, when reports indicated that polio paralyzed two children in the northern Borno state.

As of August 20, 2019, Nigeria achieved three years without any cases of polio. The liberation of the Borno State area in northeastern Nigeria from the Islamist military group, Boko Haram, may be a cause. This military group’s stated purpose was to forbid Muslim citizens in Nigeria from taking part in any activities associated with Western society. As a result of the liberation from Boko Haram, more children have been able to receive treatment for polio, including vaccinations.

Compared to the 600,000 children under the age of 5 who missed out on vaccinations in 2016, only 60,000 children under the age of 5 missed out on receiving vaccinations as of August 20, 2019. This is thanks to factors such as increased surveillance in various islands on Lake Chad, thus allowing them to see which ones people inhabit, thus allowing them to perform vaccinations on more people.

Nigeria Free of the Poliovirus

Nigeria is the last country in Africa to have had any records of the wild poliovirus, and WHO has announced that polio is no longer endemic on the African continent. In other words, thanks to the fact that vaccines have become more advanced and widespread, and the Nigerian government’s increased efforts to respond to these cases, many believe that not only has Nigeria beat polio, it is also virtually nonexistent in Africa as a whole.

While Nigeria beat polio and the virus’ presence in Africa may have faded, the disease has not completely disappeared. Several projects have formed to put an end to it once and for all, though. One such project is the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). GPEI partners with organizations such as the World Health Organization and Rotary International. According to the GPEI website, it has helped ensure over 2.5 billion vaccinations for children all across the world in over 200 countries. This is a clear example of what the average person can do to help eliminate this disease.

– Adam Abuelheiga
Photo: Flickr

polio eradication in Nigeria
For the last three years, Nigeria has not had one case of polio. As the last country in Africa to still record the wild polio disease, this new health milestone of the eradication of polio in Nigeria has proven the success of public health campaigns for the entire continent of Africa.

The Decline of Polio

Back in 1988, polio paralyzed more than 350,000 children in over 125 countries around the world. Although the devastating disease infected children in almost every country, cases of wild polio decreased by 99 percent after 1988. While the wild polio disease exists in nature, several vaccine-derived outbreaks have occurred in six African countries. In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that Nigeria held more than half of polio cases worldwide. Total immunization then became the primary goal for the eradication of polio in Nigeria to ensure that the population has protection from the vaccine-derived and wild virus. Persistent efforts of immunization have helped immunize over 45 million children under the age of 5 in Nigeria. An estimated 200,000 volunteers in Nigeria have aided in giving polio vaccines in the last five years.

Children and Polio

At the start of the polio epidemic in Nigeria, 600,000 children did not have the polio vaccine and an estimated 90 percent of polio cases were within northeast Nigeria. Due to this area encompassing largely scattered communities, satellite imaging has aided volunteers with finding unvaccinated children. Vaccinators will also frequently set up clinics within local markets to find all the unvaccinated children.

Dr. Pascal Mkanda, the leader of the eradication of polio in Nigeria for WHO, set out to eradicate the disease within three years by first vaccinating children under 5 years of age. The poliovirus remains highly infectious and mostly affects children. In the worst cases, polio causes irreversible paralysis. No cure for polio exists, but the eradication of the disease through immunization has prevented outbreaks. Estimates determine that the eradication of polio in Nigeria has saved 16 million children from paralysis.

Women and Vaccinations

Many Nigerian women are at the forefront of the battle against polio. UNICEF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation hire mostly young Nigerian women as vaccinator volunteers because Islam is the most prominent religion in northern Nigeria, and it prohibits men that are not family members from entering a Muslim home. The women volunteers go door-to-door to educate families about the vaccine and receive clinical training to give vaccinations.

Today, more than 30 million Nigerian children have received the polio vaccine. The volunteers are also in a continuous battle with skeptical anti-vaccination parents and the militant group Boko Haram. Boko Haram intentionally spreads misinformation about the vaccine and violently targets volunteers in order to keep Islam pure in Northern Africa. Some Nigerian people still have doubts about the vaccine, but now only 1 percent of people refuse the vaccination.

Overall, the eradication of polio in Nigeria represents an achievement for global health. The commitment of global health organizations and neighboring communities to the eradication of polio proves that investing in foreign aid can have a worldwide benefit.

– Nia Coleman
Photo: Wikimedia Commons