- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004

KADUNA, Nigeria — Bearing droppers of polio vaccine and promises of its safety, hundreds of thousands of volunteers fanned out across 10 African nations yesterday in a drive to stop a polio outbreak spreading from Nigerian states that have banned the vaccine.

Islamic leaders in three northern Nigerian states have blocked polio inoculations since October, calling them part of a U.S. plot to spread AIDS or infertility among Muslims.

One of the states, Kaduna, lifted the ban on the eve of yesterday’s emergency campaign — but even here, many Islamic neighborhoods turned away the volunteers with their iceboxes of vaccines, drops administered orally.

“People will resist it,” declared Nafiu Baba Ahmed, secretary-general for Nigeria’s Supreme Council for Sharia, or Islamic law.

“We are concerned about the safety of our children,” said Mr. Ahmed, speaking from his home in an Islamic neighborhood of Kaduna city. “They wouldn’t dare come here.”

Muslims in Nigeria’s arid north have become wary of vaccine initiatives since 1996, when families in Kano state accused New York-based Pfizer Inc. of using an experimental meningitis drug on patients without fully informing them of the risks.

The company denied any wrongdoing. A U.S. court dismissed a lawsuit by 20 disabled Nigerians who said they had taken part in the study, but a U.S. appeals court later revived the suit.

The World Health Organization said the ban on the vaccine has allowed the crippling disease to spread into seven African nations where it had been eradicated, and endangers a 16-year-effort to eliminate polio globally.

Until the Nigeria-based outbreak, endemic polio had been narrowed to six nations, including three — Nigeria, Niger and Egypt — in Africa. Global cases had been reduced from 350,000 in 1988 to fewer than 1,000 last year.

The outbreak helped trigger the emergency campaign in Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Niger, Cameroon, Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast and Chad.

In Nigeria, health workers made no attempts to conduct the campaign in the two states — Kano and Zamfara — that banned immunizations.

Kano officials say lab tests they carried out last year found female sex hormones in polio vaccine — proof, they say, of contamination.

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