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Nigeria Appeals for Safety Check on Polio Vaccines - 2003-10-29

The Nigerian government has called for international donors to check the safety of the vaccines being used in an international polio vaccination program.

Islamic leaders say that polio vaccines might cause cancer, AIDS or sterility. Three largely Muslim states of Kano, Kaduna, and Zamfara have voiced an objection to the World Health Organization campaign and called for checks into the safety of the vaccines being used.

To answer the clerics, Vice President Atiku Abubakar said that the vaccine would undergo further analysis. The vaccination program in the three Muslim states has been suspended.

The World Health Organization, which is running the vaccination program, insists that the vaccines, which are being used all over the world to successfully combat polio, have been fully tested. According to Oliver Rosenbauer, of the WHO's Polio Eradication Program, Nigeria has the world's highest number of polio cases.

"Nigeria now poses the single greatest threat to a polio-free world," he said. "Only seven countries in the world remain polio endemic, that is where the virus circulates freely. Nigeria is one of those countries."

The WHO says the continued presence of polio in Nigeria is leading to the re-emergence of the virus in neighboring countries: Burkina Faso, Chad, Ghana, Niger, and Togo.

According to the latest WHO figures, Nigeria's high polio infection rate is causing more cases of the virus in neighboring countries than previously believed.

WHO says, if polio is not adequately tackled in Nigeria, a world-wide program to eradicate the disease completely by 2005, could be jeopardized.