NIGERIA: Kano orders resumption of polio immunisation, ending 10-month ban
This month Kano state in northern Nigeria ended a 10-month boycott of polio immunisations and ordered its health officials to start vaccinating children again.
The move, announced on Monday night, had been long awaited by international health experts who have seen the crippling disease ripple around Africa from the Nigerian hot spot.
Ibrahim Shekarau, the governor of the mainly-Muslim Kano state, ordered the ban last September, amid fears raised by Islamic clerics that the vaccinations were part of a Western Christian plot to reduce Nigeria's Muslim population, by making them infertile and infecting them with HIV and cancer.
At the end of May Shekarau said safe vaccines had been found in Indonesia and that an end to the boycott was in sight, but it was not until this week -- some two months later -- that the ban was officially revoked.
"We are satisfied with the report and have directed the commencement of polio vaccination in the state," the governor told a news conference in Kano city on Monday night.
Shekarau added that he had already issued directives to state health officials to resume all preparations for a new immunisation campaign as soon as possible.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which is battling to have a polio-free world by 2005, welcomed the news.
"Seventy-seven percent of all children paralysed this year from polio are Nigerian, so we can only be very pleased that the governor has moved ahead," David Heymann, the World Health Organisation (WHO) representative on the Polio Eradication Iniitiative, told IRIN by telephone from Geneva.
He stressed that Kano state's decision to resume immunisation would have a major impact on the whole of West and Central Africa.
"Out of the 11 African countries outside Nigeria with polio cases, 10 of those have been reinfected by a virus that has been shown to come from Nigeria," Heymann explained.
Polio can strike at any age, though half of all cases occur in children under three. The viral disease causes paralysis, usually in the lower limbs, leaving victims consigned to a wheelchair or crutches.
Last month UN health experts warned that the crippling disease was spreading at an alarming rate and that West and Central Africa was "on the brink of the largest polio epidemic in recent years. Five times as many children in the region had been struck with polio in the first half of 2004 as during the same period last year, they said.
Kano's governor pulled out of the immunisation campaign last September, saying a panel of scientists had discovered traces of the hormone oestrogen in polio vaccines and feared it could make girls infertile. Local Islamic leaders had also worried that Western countries were using the immunisation campaign to reduce the Muslim population of Nigeria by infecting them with HIV and cancer.
On Tuesday Heymann said that it would still be an uphill struggle to contain the virus, even with Kano's decision to resume immunisations.
"It's still a major job to have the population understand that the vaccine is safe," he explained, saying imams in Nigeria could play a crucial role in getting the message across.
"Certainly there is the risk of a major epidemic because it's the rainy season and the virus spreads more easily. Also a lot of previously polio-free countries, have not been running campaigns, nor had the resources to fight the disease," Heymann explained. "Between now and October will be difficult."
For October and November, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative has planned massive, synchronised immunisation campaigns targeting 74 million children across 22 African countries but they say grass-roots support is vital in getting children to participate. - IRIN
[This Item may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2003]
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