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10/12/04 - ERADICATING POLIO IN NIGERIA  - 2004-10-06

A massive effort is underway to immunize eighty million children in Africa against polio. Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo launched the campaign. Joined by other African leaders, Mr. Obasanjo gave the liquid polio vaccine to children in the mainly Muslim Nigerian city of Kano. The first child immunized was the one-year-old daughter of Zanaib Ibrahim Shekaru, the governor of Kano state.

In 2003, the Kano state government banned polio vaccination because of false rumors that the vaccine would reduce fertility and spread the virus that causes AIDS. The ban was lifted in July, but by then a polio epidemic had spread from northern Nigeria to other countries, including once polio-free Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Ghana, Guinea, the Ivory Coast, Mali, Sudan, and Togo.

The new immunization campaign is being coordinated by the Gobal Polio Eradication Initiative, whose leading partners include the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations World Health Organization, Rotary International, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Melissa Corkum, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization, says the goal is to immunize all children, especially those five years of age and younger:

“It’s critical to boost population immunity to ensure that children in this region are protected against polio in the presence of polio transmission. It’s critical that during those upcoming campaigns that all children are reached to protect them against polio so that it doesn’t spread even further.”

Alhaji Ado Bayaero, the Emir of Nigeria’s Kano state says that “We must all ensure the conduct of quality immunization...until our children achieve their hope to live happily.”

The U.S. has pledged more than nine-hundred-million dollars to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. President George W. Bush says the U.S. is committed to taking all necessary steps to eradicate polio by the end of 2005.