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June 22, 2004

Via Modern Physician (intrusive registration required):

Polio could break out again in Africa: WHO

Africa is on the brink of the biggest polio epidemic in years, with the crippling disease hitting Nigeria hard and re-emerging in Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region, the World Health Organization said today.

The number of polio cases globally has reached 333 so far this year, almost double the number for the same period last year. Total cases last year reached 783.

In Nigeria, where Muslim leaders have refused to participate in immunization programs, 257 cases have been reported this year.


Some Islamic leaders claimed that the vaccines were part of a U.S.-led plot to spread infertility and AIDS among African Muslims. Nigerian federal officials and the United Nations deny the claims.

This isn't the first I've heard of the AIDS conspiracy theory, but this is the first time I've heard that something like the polio vaccine is also viewed with suspicion.

I wish I could say it's outrageous and that this country has never used infertility as a means of eliminating "unwanted" populations, but I can't.

Epidemiologists now fear a major epidemic this fall, the start of the polio "high season." The disease has appeared already in nine sub-Saharan African countries, after being limited to only two at the beginning of last year.

"Right now we're at the end of the low season of polio," Bruce Aylward, who coordinates the polio initiative at WHO, told reporters. "This is right when polio should be at its lowest level. It suggests that the virus is gathering steam to come roaring out."

WHO confirmed that a child was paralyzed by polio on May 20 in Darfur, the first case in Sudan in more than three years.

Health experts have long warned of epidemics in Darfur, where thousands have been killed and more than 1 million left homeless in a 15-month conflict between government-backed Arab militias and the black African Muslim population.


The disease has also been found in previously polio-free Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad and Ivory Coast. Botswana reported its first new infection in February.

Four other countries -- Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India -- are on schedule to eradicate the disease before the end of the year, WHO said.

Note that it's difficult to "eradicate" the disease in a country when it's flourishing next door.

The U.N. agency said it urgently needs $25 million to launch a vaccination campaign across 22 African nations in October. Officials said they could meet a Jan. 1 deadline to eradicate the disease if they succeed in immunizing 74 million children this fall.

Even if we find the money, who will convince the leaders of these countries that it's not a USofA plot to destroy them?

Posted by AnneZook at 03:05 PM