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12/12/03 - POLIO RISK IN NIGERIA - 2003-12-16

Thanks to an international campaign, poliomyelitis, the crippling and often deadly nervous system disease, known as polio, could be completely eliminated. The virus mainly affects children under five years of age. There is no cure, but polio can be prevented.

A major effort began in 1988 with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, sponsored by the United States, the United Nations and Rotary International. Since the initiative was launched, the transmission of polio has been cut by ninety-nine percent worldwide. There are more than two-hundred countries and territories free of the disease. According to the U-N, the polio virus is now confined primarily to seven countries -- Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Nigeria, Niger, Pakistan, and Somalia.

But some resistance has emerged to the use of vaccines that stop the polio virus. In Nigeria, a country with a large Muslim population, the New York Times newspaper reports that the U-N “has run into an unexpected hurdle from accusations by some Islamic groups that the polio vaccine contains birth control substances or, even worse, the HIV/AIDS virus.”

These accusations have been made by members of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria and the Lagos State chapter of the Movement for Islamic Culture and Awareness. But the charges are false. Dr. David Heymann, a U-N official, says that the vaccines sent to Nigeria are the same as vaccines used in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere, and that they have no effect on fertility. The vaccines are not produced in the U.S. Many are produced in Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world.

At the behest of the Katsina State Sharia Council in northern Nigeria, a Muslim scientist from Ahmado Bello University in Zaria, Dr. Hassan Rafindadi, independently analyzed the polio vaccine and pronounced it safe. Furthermore, the world Muslim body – the Organization of Islamic Conferences - has also endorsed the vaccination and urged Muslim countries to cooperate with the U-N on polio eradication.

The opposition to polio vaccination is putting Nigerian children at risk. Not only that, polio is now spreading again to the neighboring countries of Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger, Togo and Chad. In short, those who continue to oppose the polio vaccine are endangering lives needlessly.