Conspiracy Fears Fuel Nigerian Polio Epidemic
After years of increasing success in eliminating polio throughout much of the world, the UN and World Health Organization (WHO) are battling a growing polio epidemic in Nigeria and other African nations. Nigeria has reported 257 cases of polio so far this year, of a total 333 cases globally.
The effort to give the three-drop oral polio vaccine to all the world's people has stalled in Nigeria, where Muslim leaders claim the health program is part of a U.S. conspiracy to spread AIDS and/or render Muslim women infertile. (The international scope of the polio vaccination effort belies this ridiculous charge -- see below for the WHO-provided full list of public and private participation in this merciful humanitarian effort.)
The international health agencies working together in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative are attempting to inoculate 63 million children in Nigeria and nine other west and central African countries, in order to stave off a wider epidemic. As many children in polio-free parts of the world are no longer being vaccinated against the disease, any regional polio epidemic -- given global travel patterns -- has the potential to break out to become a truly global epidemic.
Polio is now endemic in only six countries (Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Niger, Nigeria, and Pakistan), down from over 125 when the Initiative was launched in 1988.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF, with participation from a wide variety of organizations. The participants include:
- private sector foundations (e.g. United Nations Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation); development banks (e.g. the World Bank);
- donor governments (e.g. Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States of America);
- the European Commission;
- humanitarian and nongovernmental organizations (e.g. the International Red Cross and Red Crescent societies;
- corporate partners (e.g. Aventis Pasteur, De Beers, Wyeth);
- 20 million volunteers in developing countries.
For more information, visit the Global Polio Eradication website or read this WHO press release .
Update 05 May 2005: Nigerian polio spreads to Indonesia