- As four northern Nigerian states now reject a global polio immunisation campaign, designed to eradicate the disease once an for all, polio has now even spread from Nigeria to Côte d'Ivoire. This is the eighth West African country to see the disease re-introduced after Nigerian religious leaders stopped the vaccination.
As the UN's World Health Organisation (WHO) today confirmed that a new case of paralytic poliomyelitis has been reported in Côte d'Ivoire, experts are probing whether that incident is linked to outbreaks in other countries stemming from the suspension of immunisation campaigns in the Nigerian state of Kano in August.
Until now, Côte d'Ivoire had not reported any polio cases since July 2000. If the link to recent regional outbreaks is confirmed, Côte d'Ivoire would become the eighth previously polio-free country in west and central Africa to become re-infected due to spreading poliovirus from northern Nigeria, according to WHO.
The federal government of Nigeria was forced to suspend polio immunisations in key northern Islamist states because of unfounded rumours that the vaccination was unsafe for girls and young women. Religious leaders maintain that the polio vaccine is a US plot to spread AIDS and infertility among Muslims.
During the weekend, the Islamist government of Kano state announced its continued resistance to the polio vaccine. "Kano state will not participate in the polio campaign," Kano government spokesman Sule Ya'u Sule told the press. Kano's boycott of the UN's massive immunisation programme in West Africa yesterday was followed by three northern Islamist states.
The Nigerian boycott of the final campaign against the virus in Africa has caused frustration among UN agencies. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) today issued a strong call on Nigeria to protect its children against the virus. The agency said that denying the vaccine to children in Kano state has created a channel for the disease's spread.
- It is unforgivable to allow still more children to be paralysed because of further delay and baseless rumours, UNICEF chief Carol Bellamy said, calling on the authorities to "immediately re-join the polio eradication effort, which promises to be one of Africa's greatest success stories in public health. Nigerian leaders must take this opportunity now, or answer to their children," she added.
A total of 45 polio cases linked to northern Nigeria have been confirmed in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Ghana and Togo. Now, also Côte d'Ivoire seems to have become victim of the northern Nigerian boycott of the immunisation programme.
In response, UN agencies have launched a costly and massive, synchronised polio immunisation campaign in ten countries across west and central Africa, including Côte d'Ivoire. If high coverage is achieved during this campaign, it could limit the consequences and minimise the risk of further spread of the virus, WHO said.
Prior to the northern Nigerian halt of the polio immunisation programme, the disease in Africa only existed in Nigeria and Niger. Immunisation programmes, using the same vaccine as now in West Africa, slowly have exterminated the deadly disease from almost all countries in the world.
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