Nigerians restart polio immunisation

An immunisation campaign against polio has been restarted in northern Nigeria, after suspicions from tribal leaders had delayed the project.

    Governor Ibrahim Shekarau relaunched the campaign

    The governor of the north Nigerian state of Kano launched a delayed drive to immunise four million children against the crippling polio virus.

    Governor Ibrahim Shekarau restarted the campaign almost a year after he came under pressure from some tribal leaders opposed to vaccination and suspended a UN-backed campaign designed to eradicate polio by the end of 2004.

    In the intervening months the number of new polio cases has exploded, spreading from Kano across Africa's most populous country. Nigeria now has more than 80% of the world's active cases and the fastest infection rate to be recorded.

    "A committee of own brethren, from our own people, have confirmed that the vaccine is safe," he told guests at a large ceremony in the farming village of Takai, 80km east of Kano city.

    As he spoke, senior officials of the Kano State government brought their youngest children forward to receive droplets of oral polio vaccine from health workers. The vaccine used comes from Indonesia.

    "Polio is spreading among children in Kano State... and I therefore call on the people to ensure that their children are immunised against this crippling disease," Shekarau said.


    Police, meanwhile, opened fire on members of two factions of the ruling party in the state, the All Nigeria People's Party(ANPP), who clashed at the scene of the launch, killing two of them and seriously wounding another one, according to reporters.

    Seven people sustained head injuries in the clashes which was later brought under control by the policemen.

    "There is a lot of suspicion in society of a western agenda to control the population of developing countries, and that has been the bottom line of the rejection of the polio vaccine"

    Professor Sadiq Bashir Wali

    The ceremony was an emotional one for many, especially those who know polio best, men like 30-year-old Ayuba Ibrahim, whose legs withered and became useless after childhood exposure to the disease.

    "My only child, Muhammad, was also infected with polio. He is ten years old. It's now too late for him to have this opportunity, but we will give our support to this campaign," he told reporters as dignitaries gathered.

    He cast a longing glance over a line of shiny new tricycles built to carry the disabled. "I hope I will be lucky enough to have one of those tricycles to assist my movement," he sighed.

    Despite widespread distrust of the vaccine, triggered by claims from some tribal leaders that the United States is attempting to depopulate Africa by handing out contaminated drugs, many Kano parents back the campaign.


    Mother-of-five Abu Bako saw her fourth child struck down and left crippled by polio. She said she would take no chances with baby number five.

    "I will make sure that he is immunised this time round, because I know what kind of stress I am going through taking care of my disabled child. I can't take any chance with my last born," said the 39-year-old.

    Since last August when Kano began resisting a global UN campaign to prevent polio, the state, an important trading centre in Nigeria's arid mainly Muslim north, has become the epicentre of the world's most dangerous polio outbreak.

    UN health agencies and Nigeria's federal government put pressure on Shekarau to drop the ban when polio cases began to pop up in 10 more African countries, once thought safe. They are now on hand to support the renewed campaign.

    While some leaders have expressed their suspicions, others have spoken out in favour of the vaccine, but health officials warn the campaign will still have to overcome a lot of doubts.

    "There is a lot of suspicion in society of a western agenda to control the population of developing countries, and that has been the bottom line of the rejection of the polio vaccine," said Professor Sadiq Bashir Wali.



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