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Traditional rulers in northern Nigeria call for halt to polio vaccination

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.328.7435.306-d (Published 05 February 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:306
  1. Abiodun Raufu
  1. Lagos

    The controversy over the administration of poliomyelitis vaccines in northern Nigeria has taken a new turn as traditional rulers from the region have asked the Nigerian government to stop administering the vaccine because of fears that it is contaminated.

    Speaking under the aegis of Jama'atul Nasril Islam (JNI), the umbrella organisation of Muslims in northern Nigeria, the rulers said their advice is based on the report of a medical team sent to India by the Muslim organisation to test the vaccines. The report is said to confirm the fears of the Muslims of northern Nigeria that the vaccines may be unsafe.

    According to Dr Haruna Kaita, the head of the medical team that conducted the test in India, the vaccines contain “undeclared contaminants that can cause malfunctioning of the testes and cause infertility in women.” The team also found “some toxic substances.”

    “Polio controversy started long ago,” said Dr Kaita. “If you find one batch defective, you should condemn all batches. What these people [proponents of the vaccine] are saying is unethical, illegal, and criminal, and they know that these things are contaminated and they have the potential to cause human hazards. They should be banned rather than cause diseases in innocent children.”

    But another medical delegation sent by the Nigerian government to South Africa to carry out tests on the vaccine has challenged the report,which it says is false and alarming, claiming that its own findings shows the vaccines to be safe.

    Professor Umaru Shehu, who conducted a similar test in South Africa on behalf of the Nigerian government, dismissed Dr Kaita's claims on the vaccines.

    “The best methods and equipment were used, and no such thing as Dr Kaita described were found in the vaccines,” he said.

    Professor Shehu said the test at the University of Pretoria in South Africa corroborates earlier tests carried out on the vaccines in Nigeria, which found the vaccines safe and free of foreign substances.

    Nigeria's minister of health, Professor Eyitayo Lambo, said that the government would soon find a solution to the problem.

    “We are in touch with JNI, and we are putting in place some arrangements whereby by next week or so we will undertake an assignment together and we will then be able to announce to Nigerians that we have to move ahead with the polio campaign.” (See News Extra at www.bmj.com)