NIGERIA: Polio eradication likely as Kano drops boycott, minister
A young victim of polio
Lagos, 27 May 2004 (IRIN) - Nigeria is still on course to eradicate polio by the end of the year after a boycott on the vaccine in the predominantly Muslim northern Kano State was dropped, Minister of Health Eyitayo Lambo said on Thursday.
However, United Nations agencies who were frustrated by the refusal of Kano authorities to participate in the polio immunisation programme, are more cautious.
Lambo said Nigerian and international agencies involved in polio immunisation were now planning “catch-up immunisation campaigns in Kano” ahead of nationwide exercises beginning in September.
“Nigeria will shock all sceptics by halting the transmission of the wild polio virus before the end of the year,” a confident Lambo said on Radio Nigeria.
Geoffrey Njoku, spokesman for the UN Children's Fund, one of the global partners working for the eradication of polio, welcomed the end of the boycott, but told Irin that states where polio is endemic, such as Kano, would be unlikely to meet that end-year target.
"UNICEF is happy to get everybody on board because our target is to kick out polio before the end of this year," Njoku said.
"For the less endemic states of Nigeria the target of end of this year could still be met, but for the more endemic states in the north, I think the first quarter of 2005 is more realistic," he continued.
Kano, one of the world’s last remaining reservoirs of the virus, dropped out of the global polio eradication effort last September.
Radical Islamic clerics preached in mosques that polio immunisation was part of a Western plot to reduce the population of Muslims and the vaccines contained the virus that causes AIDS, and could also cause cancer and infertility.
Five northern states briefly suspended polio immunisation.
United Nations agencies issued assurances the vaccines were safe. President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered special tests in Nigeria and abroad that also returned safe results.
Nonetheless, Kano continued its boycott insisting tests by its scientists showed traces of the hormone oestrogen it said could reduce fertility in women.
Early this month Nigeria’s federal authorities moved to end the impasse by reaching an understanding with Kano that it could procure its own vaccines from trusted sources.
Kano spokesman Sule Ya’u Sule said last week the state government had found “safe polio vaccines” in Indonesia and had issued import orders. He said the government would resume polio immunisation as soon as the imported vaccines arrived in the state.
Polio can strike at any age, though half of all cases occur in children under three years. The disease causes paralysis, usually in the lower limbs, leaving victims consigned to a wheelchair or on crutches. In the most severe cases, polio can cause death by asphyxiation.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), together with international partners, has launched a global programme that aims to see polio eradicated by the end of 2004. This final vaccination drive is the culmination of a US$ three-billion campaign spanning 15 years.
Nigeria currently accounts for about half of all polio cases worldwide and strains traced to Nigeria have infected nine west, central and southern African countries in the past year.