- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 17, 2003

ABUJA, Nigeria (Agence France-Presse) — The lower house of parliament announced it will hold a public hearing next week on oral polio immunization because of issues raised by some northern states over the use of World Health Organization (WHO) vaccines.

The House of Representatives said in a statement Tuesday that it will conduct a public hearing Dec. 22 on the use of oral polio vaccine in Nigeria, and urged members of the public to submit memorandums on the issue to its health committee.

President Olusegun Obasanjo tried Monday to debunk a widespread rumor that an immunization program by the WHO to eradicate polio could cause sterility.

Opposition from Muslim clerics has stalled polio immunization programs in three states in northern Nigeria, the epicenter of a new outbreak of polio that could thwart global attempts to wipe out the crippling viral disease.

“The result [of tests] has shown that the vaccines are absolutely safe,” Mr. Obasanjo told a group of youths in the Nigerian capital.

“There is no fear that the vaccines prevent people from being productive,” he said.

WHO officials visited Nigeria last month to plead with officials to restart the program before the outbreak reaches epidemic proportions and threatens millions of children with paralysis and death.

But some Muslim clerics contend that the vaccination campaign is a front for what they say is a U.S. plot to sterilize young African women and depopulate the continent.

The story was dismissed as absurd by the world health community — but Muslim leaders say Washington’s support for the program is at the root of the distrust.

The WHO is leading a worldwide drive to eradicate polio by the end of next year, working alongside the United Nations Children’s Fund and a battery of international donors including the U.S. government.

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