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Nigeria: WHO Claims Global Polio Eradication Back on Track - 2004-08-03

The World Health Organization says its global polio eradication campaign is back on track, now that Nigeria's northern Islamic State of Kano has allowed immunizing to resume for its children. The health organization says a mass immunization campaign got under way Saturday in the state of Kano, targeting some four-million children under the age of five.

The head of WHO's global eradication campaign, David Heymann, says all immunizations in the northern Nigerian state resumed after being suspended nearly one year ago. He says it is of vital importance that the campaign was re-launched by the governor of Kano.

"The fact that he re-opened, re-launched the campaign, that he was immunizing children of government employees as he opened the campaign, seems to have been a message that many people were waiting for," says Mr. Heymann.

Kano stopped immunizing its children against polio last August because of rumors that the vaccine was contaminated with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Another rumor claimed that polio vaccines made young girls infertile. The Nigerian government set up a commission to evaluate the safety of the vaccine and Kano State established two independent commissions of its own. Three weeks ago, all three investigations declared the vaccine to be safe.

Because of the suspension, polio cases re-emerged in Kano and throughout Nigeria and also traveled across borders to previously polio-free countries.

WHO reports 538 children around the world have been stricken with polio since the beginning of the year, nearly all of them in Nigeria. Other affected countries include Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Niger and Pakistan. To halt the spread of the disease, Dr. Heymann says WHO and its partners will begin a synchronized campaign in September in 22 west and central African countries. He says the campaign plans to immunize a total of 74-million children.

Now that Kano has resumed immunizations, Dr. Heymann says he believes the goal of eradicating polio in the whole world can be achieved by the end of next year.