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[afro-nets] Nigeria: Polio, Politics and Power Play

Nigeria: Polio, Politics and Power Play

"Polio eradication is no longer a health issue. It is a politi-
cal issue. Unless every child at risk is immunized the (global
control) effort will have been wasted and the virus will spread
throughout the world."

Bruce Aylward, co-ordinator of the Global Polio Eradication Ini-
tiative at the WHO. Jan. 2004


A public health brouhaha has been playing out in Nigeria since
October 2003. Polio vaccination is at the core of the crisis.
The key actors in the crisis are: religious leaders of some
northern Nigerian states (with Kano State as the prime leader)
on one hand, the Federal government of Nigeria, WHO and other
multilateral organisations on the other hand. Caught in the mid-
dle are hapless children who do not have a voice that can be

Muslim clerics in northern Nigeria have for sometime viewed the
polio vaccines with suspicion. They stopped the immunisation
programme in three predominantly Islamic states of Zamfara, Ka-
duna and Kano last year saying the vaccines were contaminated
with contraceptives. Some political leaders including a medical
practitioner of northern extraction publicly expressed conspir-
acy theories, accusing President Obasanjo of Nigeria, a southern
christian, of colluding with the American CIA to "de-fertilize"
the North. Efforts to reassure these Northern leaders have been
frustrated by conflicting laboratory test results on the dis-
puted vaccines. While the federal government's tests have given
the vaccines the all-clear, northern leaders say that their own
test results showed traces of the female hormone, oestrogen, in
the vaccines.

Meanwhile, President Obasanjo of Nigeria has personally declared
the UNICEF supplied polio vaccine, safe. Nigeria's health minis-
ter, Professor Eyitayo Lambo in Geneva last week, endorsed an
agreement on behalf of the government of Nigeria, for new mass
immunisation campaigns that aim to vaccinate 250 million chil-
dren against polio in six polio endemic countries; Afghanistan,
India, Pakistan, Egypt, Niger and Nigeria. This was announced
after an emergency meeting at the World Health Organisation
called after concerns that Nigeria may be triggering a resur-
gence of polio cases in neighbouring Burkina Faso, Ghana, Chad,
which hitherto had been certified polio-free by WHO.

While Nigeria's Health minister has declared that the national
immunisation campaign would restart next month and would cover
all of Nigeria's northern states; Kano State authorities persist
in their insistence on Sunday that "the suspension of polio im-
munisation in the state would remain in force until their fears
about the vaccines used were adequately addressed."

Health is on the concurrent list in Nigeria and States and not
the Federal government have administrative control over health
affairs at primary and secondary care levels. Furthermore, it is
worthy to note that Kano State, Nigeria is under the control of
a different political party led by General Buhari, onetime mili-
tary dictator and Head of State, who has filed a case in Nige-
ria's Supreme court, challenging the victory of President
Obasanjo's ruling party, the PDP, at the Federal level, during
the last presidential election in May 2003. President Obasanjo,
himself is an ex-military dictator who ruled Nigeria before Gen-
eral Buhari.

Nigeria signs new WHO polio pact. This Day (Nigeria) Jan 19,

NIGERIA: Polio immunisation to remain suspended, says Kano
State. Irinnews. Jan 19, 2004

WHO moves to calm polio fears BBC News. Jan 20, 2004

For additional related resources, search site at:
Search keyword: Nigeria, Polio.

A. Odutola

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