Three predominantly Muslim states in northern Nigeria stopped
immunizations in November because Islamic authorities suspect the
vaccines of spreading infertility -- which they believe is part of
an American conspiracy to depopulate Africa's most populous nation.
"A meeting has been scheduled in two weeks' time with all the
states that are opposed to the immunization program," Health
Minister Eyitayo Lambo told Reuters.
He said during the meeting, and in the presence of all, the
vaccine would be tested for impurities.
Children in Burkina Faso, Chad and Central African Republic have
contracted polio in the last few months and the World Health
sites) has pointed the finger of blame firmly at Nigeria, which
accounted for half of all confirmed cases worldwide last year.
Nasiu Baba-Ahmed, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for
Sharia (Islamic law) in Nigeria, backed the idea of a joint test
with the government. He said tests commissioned by Nigerian Islamic
groups in Italy and India confirmed the presence of contaminants in
vaccines taken from northern Nigeria.
The government says the vaccines are pure.
"There are serious suspicions of a conspiracy by the U.S.
government to depopulate Nigeria, among other developing countries,"
he told Reuters.
"Unless a joint examination is undertaken, suspicions will linger
and people will not be forthcoming."
If the joint test puts fears to rest, the minister said
vaccinations would resume nationwide on February 23.
Nigeria is proving the main obstacle to the WHO's goal of
eradicating polio globally by 2005.
Baba-Ahmed questioned why there was so much emphasis on polio,
which affects hundreds of children in Nigeria, when thousands are
killed every year by other preventable diseases such as measles,
typhoid, malaria and meningitis.
Analysts warned the joint test may not clear up the dispute, as
its roots went beyond purely scientific matters.
"The problem is geopolitical, not a health matter," said
political commentator Pini Jason.
"The controversy over the vaccine is similar to the debate over
Sharia. Those who oppose the vaccine are making a global political
statement against the United States as regards its foreign policy to
Islamic nations," he said.
The three objector states, Kano, Kaduna and Zamfara, are among 12
northern states which introduced sharia law soon after the return of
democracy to Nigeria in 1999.
The adoption of sharia has fueled religious and ethnic violence,
which has killed about 5,000 people over the past five years in the
north of the oil exporting country.