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Polio Vaccination Campaign Hits Roadblock in Northern Nigeria - 2004-02-22

Officials in northern Nigeria say they will not participate in the international campaign to eradicate polio that is due to begin Monday. Nigeria's northern state of Kano has boycotted the campaign since last August.

Officials in Nigeria's mainly Muslim state of Kano have halted polio vaccination efforts there because, they say, it is a plot by western nations to render women infertile in the region.

Nigeria's Supreme Council for Sharia, or Islamic law, also claims the vaccine will spread the HIV/AIDS virus in order to reduce the population in Africa.

A 12-member committee including Islamic leaders, scientists and officials from Nigeria have just completed a three-nation tour that was intended to prove that the vaccine was not contaminated.

A spokeswoman for the World Health Organization, Melissa Corkum, says she has not heard from the committee but that she expects a report from them on Monday, when the new campaign against polio is due to begin.

"Tomorrow, national immunizations campaigns are scheduled to go ahead across the whole of west and central Africa, and again it is critical that every child is reached to boost immunity in and across the whole of west and central Africa to work towards stopping the transmission at the end of 2004," she said. "Nigeria is scheduled to be a national campaign, and we are still waiting on the outcome of tomorrow."

She says the polio virus is endemic to Nigeria, and the suspension of the eradication efforts in the north have led to the spread of the disease to neighboring countries.

The new Global Polio Campaign is targeting 10 countries in the region and is being hailed as the final assault on polio. There is fear that the decision by Kano state in Nigeria, which currently has the largest number of polio cases in the world, could jeopardize the campaign.