Province at heart of outbreak alleges anti-Muslim plot
Sunday, February 22, 2004 Posted: 7:58 PM EST (0058 GMT)
Oluwatope Ewunuga, 2, gets his thumb painted to show he was immunized
in Lagos, Nigeria, in this photo from October 24, 2003.
KADUNA, Nigeria (AP) -- A northern state in Nigeria that is at the
heart of a spreading polio outbreak said Sunday that it would not
relent on its boycott of a mass vaccination program, which it has
called a U.S. plot to spread AIDS and infertility among Muslims.

"Kano state will not participate in tomorrow's polio campaign. Our
team made the discovery of contaminants first, remember," state
government spokesman Sule Ya'u Sule told The Associated Press,
referring to tests the state says its scientists conducted on the
polio vaccine last year.

"Unless we are convinced by our committee [of health experts] that
the oral polio vaccines are safe, the exercise remains suspended in
Kano state," Sule said.

Kano is one of 12 of Nigeria's 36 states that practices Shariah law,
based on the teachings in the Quran, Islam's holy book.

U.N. aid agencies insist the door-to-door drive to inoculate 63
million children in 10 west and central African countries, including
Nigeria, is critical to stemming a polio outbreak spreading out from
Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north.

Globally, the World Health Organization says, the standoff endangers
a widespread effort that had worked toward stamping out polio. The 16-
year-old public health project has reduced the number of cases
worldwide from 350,000 in 1988 to fewer than 1,000 last year.

Nigerian officials had hoped to resolve the dispute by dispatching a
team of scientists, politicians and Islamic religious leaders to
observe a battery of tests on the vaccines in South Africa and India
earlier this month.

Nigerian Health Minister Eyitayo Lambo would not divulge the outcome
of the visit, which he said ended last week. He gave no explanation
of why the results were not being revealed -- saying only that
Nigeria's government would forge ahead with the campaign regardless
of opposition.

"We are not going to be bothered" by the boycott, Lambo told The
Associated Press, without elaborating. "The immunization is going
ahead as planned. We have got our results and we are going ahead with
the immunization."

Mukhtar Sirajo, the state government spokesman in Kaduna, another of
the northern states where vaccinations had been blocked last year,
told the AP that his state had decided to allow the emergency
immunization campaign to go ahead. However, Sirajo did not rule out
the possibility of the ban being reintroduced if Kaduna decided the
results of the latest tests cast new doubts on the safety of the

Immunization efforts "will not be stopped," he said. "But it is only
fair that we hear from the verification team, including all the

There was no immediate word Sunday on whether Zamfara, the third
northern state that had banned the vaccine, would now allow the
emergency immunization campaign.

Tobe Ejorfo, 4, receives drops of polio vaccine at the Ore-Ofe
nursery school in Lagos, Nigeria, in this photo from October 24,
Kano had been expected to deny permission for the emergency campaign.

In October, similar door-to-door drives were blocked entirely in
Kano, Zamfara and Kaduna.

Residents in other northern states where volunteers tried to
administer the oral vaccine house-to-house to toddlers and infants
were frequently turned away by residents. Homeowners at times
reportedly set dogs upon the volunteer health workers.

The boycott by Kano, where 89 polio cases since January 2003 made it
the epicenter of the outbreak, "puts more children at risk from being
crippled by polio, not only in Nigeria but also the region," said
Gerrit Beger, spokesman for the United Nations Children's Fund in

"We risk reversing our gains. We can't eradicate polio globally if
everyone does not take action," Beger said.

Last year, Nigeria accounted for close to half of the more than 700
polio cases documented worldwide. Many of the rest were in India,
Pakistan and Afghanistan, where officials say they are making

In recent months, dozens of polio cases spread from Kano and other
predominantly Muslim states to other Nigerian states. The outbreak
also expanded to seven African countries where the disease was
previously thought to have been eradicated.

Kano state officials say their lab tests carried out late last year
found estrogen and other female sex hormones in the polio vaccine --
proof, they say, that the vaccines are contaminated.

"UNICEF has been immunizing children around the globe for decades and
our biggest wish is to continue to do the job and eradicate polio
once and for all in Nigeria and worldwide," the organization said in
a statement.

"Any delay of immunization activities will result in a wider spread
of the virus, crippling more innocent children in Nigeria and
neighboring countries."