The Health Crises caused by the Rise of Boko Haram

28 June 2019

Boko Haram is a group which originated with its opposition to Western values and education with Boko Haram being roughly translated as ‘Western Education is Sinful’ but has now evolved into a group which uses violence to achieve these goals by attacking Christians in Northern Nigeria. This evolution has resulted in numerous public health crises for Nigeria.

The effects of the Boko Haram insurgency has been felt across Nigeria with 24,500,000 people being indirectly affected by the crisis and 9,000,000 directly affected. Over 27,000 civilians have been killed in the past ten years due to Boko Haram. The cause and effect between these events are clear to see yet the insurgency has caused a further health crisis in Nigeria with the physical and mental health of Boko Haram victims also being affected.

As a result of the rise of Boko Haram, 981,416 people in Northern Nigeria are internally displaced with 153,000 people becoming refugees and fleeing to neighbouring countries. Of the people who are internally displaced, many are forced to live in camps which are rife with illness and through which illness and diseases can spread quickly. This has been corroborated by the World Health Organization which reported that diseases, such as malaria, measles and cholera, will now be able to spread much more easily through Nigeria as a result of the large amount of internally displaced people.

However, this is only a single aspect of damage done to physical health by Boko Haram as there are fears of famine spreading in Northern Nigeria due to the methods pursued by the Nigerian military in order to combat Boko Haram. The Nigerian Armed Forces have been in conflict with Boko Haram and have targeted them by cutting off their supply lines. This strategy has had a knock-on effect on the Nigerian civilian population that has been displaced by the conflict with a reported 2,000 famine-related deaths on the Nigerian-Cameroon border from January 2016-September 2016. This is an area that is heavily populated by internally displaced people. Thus, the response of the Nigerian military to Boko Haram may well have exacerbated the situation in Northern Nigeria and may have caused further famine-related deaths in Nigeria.

There is a lesser talked about issue that has been caused by Boko Haram which is the psychological and mental health effects that the militant group have inflicted upon the population in Northern Nigeria. UNICEF has declared that Boko Haram kidnap and abduct women and children in order to force the women into marriage and recruit the children into their militia. Children who are abducted are made into ‘child soldiers’ and are forced to act as spies and are even manipulated into becoming suicide bombers in an attempt to act as a decoy. The UN has reported that the use of child soldiers has “long-term psychological consequences” for the children involved due to the acts of violence they witness or are forced to commit. The actions of Boko Haram, with their forced recruitment of children, will clearly have a long-term impact upon the region, considering that the psychological damage to the mental health of children will take years to be repaired. The UN has stated that whilst the children may be reintegrated into society, this will not necessarily result in a quick fix which makes the process of mental healing a “long process”. Boko Haram’s impact upon Nigeria has not only caused a great amount of physical harm, in terms of deaths and disease outbreaks, but also a great deal of damage upon mental health which may end up taking decades to heal.

The treatment of women by Boko Haram has also unleashed mental health issues. It is well known that Boko Haram abduct women, but they are not solely forced to become brides of Boko Haram soldiers. It has been documented that they can be forced to convert to Islam or be brainwashed into becoming suicide bombers for Boko Haram. All of this takes a toll on the mental health of the women who are subjected to these attacks, yet a large proportion of the focus goes towards the victims of the physical attacks by Boko Haram. The effect of these psychological attacks arguably has a long-term impact due to the societal stigma that is created from the abductions and the feeling of shame that the female victims are left with.

Solutions have been offered to resolve these various health crises. Greater humanitarian aid can help relieve the famine whilst trauma counselling could be offered to the afflicted women and children so that they can heal from their mental anguish and re-join society without having to confront the societal stigma. None of these solutions are cost-free or a quick fix but they would almost certainly provide a serious boost to the people who need them and would help to eventually resolve their pain.

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