- The leader of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Carol Bellamy has termed the polio vaccination boycott of certain northern Nigerian states as "unforgivable". The children of northern Nigeria had the right to receive the life-saving vaccine now, holds Ms Bellamy.
- Children in Kano and other northern states of Nigeria have been waiting over six months for their state authorities to conclude several tests of the polio vaccine and restart polio immunization activities, UNICEF's Ms Bellamy recalled in a statement made in Geneva yesterday evening.
She added that it "is unforgivable to allow still more children to be paralysed because of further delay and baseless rumours." The UNICEF leader therefore called "on these 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, added Ms Bellamy in an unusually clear speech by a UN leader.
A newly registered polio case in Côte d'Ivoire, which had been polio-free for the last four years, had caused the UNICEF leader to make her harsh statement. Côte d'Ivoire is now believed to be the eighth West African country to be re-infected with polio after an earlier successful drive to eradicate the disease. Polio is currently spreading all over West Africa from northern Nigeria, where religious leaders have stopped the polio immunisation campaign.
- This is further proof of the unnecessary suffering caused by the ongoing suspension of polio immunisation activities in the Nigerian state of Kano, commented Ms Bellamy. "Children living in [northern Nigeria's] Kano state have been denied the polio vaccine since August 2003, creating an open channel for polio to spread," she added.
UNICEF is one of several UN agencies involved in a large polio vaccination campaign in West Africa, which started this week and intended to eradicate the virus from Africa once and for all. Until last year, in Africa polio only was registered to be actively spreading in northern Nigeria and Niger. From this nucleus, the virus has now spread to eight more West African countries.
Religious and traditional leaders in Kano and Zamfara states of northern Nigeria last year stopped the polio vaccination campaign, claiming that the polio vaccine was unsafe and a US plot to spread AIDS and infertility among Muslims.
Until yesterday, three northern Nigerian states refuse to participate in the ongoing mass immunisation programme. Now, however, authorities of the Nigerian state Niger announced they were to drop the boycott and let the vaccination go on. That leaves only the two states Kano and Zamfara - which unfortunately also are the two states with Africa's highest polio prevalence.
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