A largely Muslim state in northern Nigeria hopes to import new polio vaccines and resume immunization after an eight-month ban which allowed the disease to spread across Africa, a spokesman said Monday.
Kano state stopped immunizing children against the crippling virus after influential Islamic elders voiced concerns that vaccines supplied by Western health bodies were tainted with infertility agents and could spread HIV.
“The vaccines are in Indonesia, where they have obtained a certificate of safety, and will be tested when they arrive this week,” Kano state press director Sule Yau Sule said.
“We are not importing from Indonesia because it is a Muslim country, but because the vaccines they are producing contain safe levels of estrogen, which can be harmful to young girls,” he added.
Polio, which mainly affects children under five, is caused by a virus that invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis or death.
Islamic authorities had claimed vaccines were adulterated as part of a western plot to depopulate the region.
Several other mainly Muslim states in northern Nigeria originally joined Kano’s boycott, but relented after government experts said impurities in the vaccines were at safe levels.
Some 400 Nigerian children have been infected with the virus since Kano’s suspension, and the disease has spread to at least eight other countries in West and Central Africa where it had previously been eradicated.
The boycott has threatened to upset plans by the World Health Organization (WHO) to eliminate polio worldwide by 2005.
The WHO’s “Kick polio out of Africa” campaign has cut polio across the continent to just over one case a day last year from 205 cases in 1996.