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Polio Vaccination to Resume in Northern Nigeria - 2004-06-24


A World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman says the governor in northern Nigeria's Kano State is ready to resume vaccinations against polio, following an eight-month boycott.

World Health Organization spokesman David Heymann says his agency is waiting for final clearance from Kano State's governor before starting the new vaccinations. Mr. Heymann says the governor told him the state has accepted test results indicating that a polio vaccine produced in Indonesia is safe.

"I spoke with him myself two days ago, and he said that now everything is in place, they have a safe vaccine that they are convinced is in place," he said. "The government said the vaccines have been tested in Indonesia and that he is convinced the vaccines produced in Indonesia are safe and can be used in northern Nigeria. He is in the final stages from what he told me, of beginning immunization in his state."

Kano State refused to join the most recent round of WHO polio vaccinations in February, alleging that the U.S.-made drugs were tainted.

Muslim clerics in Nigeria's northern states called for a stop to the vaccinations, saying that the vaccine contained anti-fertility drugs and other harmful elements that were part of an alleged plot by westerners to depopulate the area.

The WHO has repeatedly denied the charge.

An activist from a human rights group based in northern Nigeria, Nasir Abbas, says local Islamic leaders like Alhaji Datti Ahmed of the Supreme Council on Sharia continue to play a large role in influencing policies in Kano State.

"Going back to history, Kano state used to be a very conservative place whereby the traditional institutions tend to take charge over the whole administrative circuit," he explained. "And you have clergies like Dr. Ahmed, who is very respected and whose views with regard to polio really tend to undermine the whole exercise. And the literacy level in the rural areas is very very low and people tend to heed to whatever he says and whatever he says is final."

The World Health Organization's David Heymann says the next round of vaccinations in the region is scheduled for October, but he says Kano State would have to start earlier in order to make up for not participating in the previous vaccination campaigns.

"We will be working with Nigeria and especially with the northern states, helping them as they require to begin to do what we call mop up, or catch up with the rest of Africa, by beginning immunizations and by immunizing children under five at least in two or three rounds before those campaigns in west or central Africa would begin in October," he added.

The World Health Organization says there have been five times as many cases of polio among children in west and central Africa in 2004 than there were in 2003.

Earlier this week, Kano government officials said they would not be intimidated by a new WHO report blaming its stoppage of the immunization program for a resurgence of polio cases all across Africa, from nearby Ivory Coast to Botswana in southern Africa. A state spokesman said just a handful of children were identified as having polio in Kano as of last year, and that it is unlikely those few children could be responsible for spreading the virus throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

According to the WHO, about 90 percent of the polio strains paralyzing African children in 2004 have been traced to a strain found in Nigeria. One of the most recent cases was in Sudan, where a child was found to be afflicted with the same strain of the disease as is found in Nigeria.

The World Health Organization is aiming to eradicate new cases of polio worldwide by the end of next year, and the recent outbreak has been a setback to that plan.

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