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Nigerian State Still Opposes Polio Vaccine - 2004-03-22

Nigeria has begun the newest round of polio vaccinations across the country, except in Kano state, where local officials insist the vaccine is contaminated.

Officials in the mostly Muslim northern state have repeatedly opposed anti-polio efforts, amid claims the vaccine is contaminated with sterility agents and the HIV virus.

Last week, Kano state officials rejected government-sponsored tests, which researchers say prove the vaccine is safe.

In a bid to end the controversy, the tests were conducted outside the country in India and South Africa by a panel that included scientists and religious and traditional rulers.

Now, Kano says it is waiting for its own supply of polio vaccine from an Asian nation to begin immunizing children.

Meanwhile, Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo squeezed drops of vaccine into children's mouths in northern Zamfara state Monday at the start of the latest round of nationwide vaccinations. Last week, Zamfara ended its ban on polio immunizations, accepting the results of the new tests.

At a ceremony today, President Obasanjo said thousands of children in Zamfara had been denied the opportunity to be immunized against the crippling disease due to the controversy over the vaccine's safety.

The World Health Organization says the dispute in Nigeria has triggered a new outbreak of polio, which it says has spread to at least seven nearby countries that previously had eradicated the disease.

Experts say Nigeria is responsible for half of all polio cases in the world, estimated to be under 700 worldwide.

Some information for this report provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.