Investigation Into Claims That Polio Vaccine Contaminated With HIV Inconclusive, Nigerian Panel Says
A Nigerian panel on Tuesday said that its investigation into claims that a polio vaccine had been contaminated with HIV is inconclusive, Reuters reports (Reuters, 2/24). In October 2003, the World Health Organization launched a project to immunize 15 million African children who were determined to be at immediate risk of contracting polio. However, the vaccinations were hampered when some Muslim leaders in northern states of Nigeria said that the immunization effort was part of a U.S. plan to decimate the Muslim population by spreading HIV/AIDS and infertility. The Nigerian government earlier this month sent state and religious representatives to South Africa, Indonesia and India to observe testing of the polio vaccine and bring back proof that it is not contaminated with HIV (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/10). "The result we have cannot be released now because it is not conclusive," Committee Chair Kyari El-Kanemi, a Muslim elder in the state of Borno, said, adding, "One part is still being awaited. ... We will release our final report to the general public by early March" (Reuters, 2/24).
One-third of the 800 new polio cases reported worldwide last year can be attributed directly to the Nigerian states' ban on the vaccine, according to health workers (Colombant, VOA News, 2/23). WHO on Monday launched a new vaccination drive in 10 African countries in an attempt to contain the outbreak. However, the Nigerian states of Niger and Bauchi on Tuesday joined Kano, Zamfara and Kaduna states in boycotting the vaccines (McKenzie, AP/Yahoo! News, 2/24). Only officials from Kaduna lifted the ban in time for the campaign. Despite the ban being lifted, many Kaduna Islamic neighborhoods would not allow health care workers into their villages to administer the vaccines, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports (McKenzie, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/24). Officials from Kano said that they would not allow WHO vaccinations until the results of the fact-finding mission are released. However, some influential Islamic leaders in the country have rejected the mission's findings in advance (VOA News, 2/23). Kano state governor Ibrahim Shekarau on Wednesday said he believes that "it is a lesser of two evils to sacrifice two, three, four, five, even 10 children (to polio) than allow hundreds of thousands or possibly millions of girl-children likely to be rendered infertile." He added that tests conducted last year by scientists in Kano found traces of hormones in the vaccine, according to the AP/Las Vegas Sun (McKenzie, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 2/25).
The Nigeria-based polio outbreak endangers a 16-year campaign to eradicate polio worldwide and has triggered emergency vaccination campaigns in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Niger, Nigeria and Togo (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/24). Officials worry that the refusal of leaders in Kano to allow immunizations could compromise their efforts. Polio strains from the state have caused new cases in neighboring countries, WHO spokesperson Jones Mpakateni said. "Kano is the epicenter of the worst polio virus cases that we have in the world and it is the source for most of the viruses which are circulating," Mpakateni said, adding, "As long as we do not handle Kano or if we do not immunize the children in Kano then we might be going around in circles" (VOA News, 2/23).
NPR's "Talk of the Nation" on Wednesday reported on the vaccine boycott. The segment includes comments by Dr. David Heymann, World Health Organization representative for Polio Eradication (Conan, "Talk of the Nation," NPR, 2/25). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.