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Two more Nigerian states boycott polio campaign

A boycott of the vaccine for polio spread to two more northern Nigerian Islamic states on Tuesday, United Nations Children’s Fund officials said, hampering a massive drive to immunise 63-million children in 10 African nations against a polio outbreak.

Unicef officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said authorities of Niger and Bauchi states had declared they would no longer offer any cooperation with a two-day old emergency vaccination, launched on Monday. Niger and Bauchi state officials could not be reached for comment early on Tuesday.

Nigeria’s Kano, Zamfara and Kaduna states already have banned the polio vaccine since October, although Kaduna authorities relented in time for vaccine teams to start going from door-to-door in that state on Monday.

The World Health Organisation says a polio outbreak spreading from Kano state has helped push polio back into seven African nations where it had been eradicated. The outbreak, and vaccine ban, threatens a worldwide effort to wipe out polio globally by 2005, WHO and others say.

Northern Nigeria Islamic leaders say the immunisation campaign is part of a US plot to depopulate Muslim northern Nigeria by spreading Aids or sterilising agents. Northern states say their own lab tests show contaminants in the vaccine.

Saying it would prove the vaccine is safe, the government this month sent a team of scientists, religious leaders and others abroad to witness tests on the vaccine in foreign labs.

Without explanation, however, the government has failed to release results of those tests abroad. The silence has added to suspicion of the vaccine. Government authorities have refused comment on the delay.

Muslims in Nigeria’s arid north have become especially wary of vaccine initiatives since 1996, when families in Kano state accused New York-based Pfizer of using an experimental meningitis drug on patients without fully informing them of the risks.

The company denied any wrongdoing. A United States court dismissed a lawsuit by 20 disabled Nigerians alleged to have taken part in the study, but a US appeals court later revived it. – Sapa-AP

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