- Today, the final massive immunisation drive to stop polio once and for all in Africa is to begin. The Northern Nigerian state of Kano however refuses to take part in the vaccination programme, claming the polio vaccine is a US plot to spread AIDS and infertility among Muslims.
Already last year, the Islamic states Kano and Zamfara of Northern Nigeria halted the global polio immunisation campaign. Since that, polio - which at that time in Africa only existed in Nigeria and Niger - has again spread from Kano into eight countries in West and Central Africa. The World Health Organisation (WHO) holds Kano responsible for the renewed spread of polio.
On Friday, the WHO, other UN agencies and the Health Ministries of the ten polio affected African states announced they were to launch "a massive immunisation drive to stop polio" today, 23 February. Also the federal government of Nigeria promised its cooperation in this move to exterminate the disease from Africa once and for all.
During the weekend, however, the Islamist government of Kano state has announced its continued resistance to the polio vaccine. "Kano state will not participate in the polio campaign," Kano government spokesman Sule Ya'u Sule told the press yesterday. "Our team made the discovery of contaminants first, remember," he added.
Mr Sule was referring to controversial tests of the polio vaccine made by Kano health officials last year. The tests concluded that the vaccine was not safe as it could spread HIV/AIDS and affect women's fertility. Kano officials concluded that the mass immunisation was a US plot against Muslims with the aim of spreading AIDS and lowering fertility.
The federal government of Nigeria last year didn't succeed in convincing Kano officials to participate in the vaccination programme, but agreed to launch a new Nigerian study into the safety of the vaccine. The scientific team studying the vaccine includes politicians and Islamic scholars.
While the federal government of Nigeria recently made a public statement saying that Nigerian tests so far had proven the vaccine to be safe and that it should be used immediately, Kano government officials say they will be waiting for the test's final conclusions. "Unless we are convinced by our committee of health experts that the oral polio vaccines are safe, the exercise remains suspended in Kano state," Mr Sule told the press in Kano.
The WHO is however frustrated by this further delay in the mass vaccination campaign. The UN agency has guaranteed the safety of the vaccine, which has been handed out to people all over the world in mass vaccination campaigns during the latest decades. The current campaign is to be the last ever, and includes Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Pakistan and West Africa.
According to WHO, Kano is now the core area of polio infections in Africa. Due to the halt in the immunisation programme last year, for the first time in decades, there was registered a 62 percent increase in polio virus in Nigeria in 2003.
Even worse, according to the WHO, polio during the last year has spread from its Northern Nigerian core to eight countries where it previously had been eradicated. These include Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Togo. The costly vaccination thus has to be repeated in these countries.
- The whole continent is on the brink of re-infection unless these campaigns stop the further spread of the virus, yesterday warned Ebrahim Samba, WHO Regional Director for the African Region. "Africa has proved it can stop polio - now is the time to finish the job," the WHO leader added.
The West African mass immunisation programme that starts today was to target a total of 63 million children in ten countries, with a special focus on Northern Nigeria. The WHO had hoped to gain the support of political, religious and traditional leaders in the region.
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