Telling the Truth About Polio

More on the return of polio and why it has returned. Allen Esterson did some research and found this article at News-Medical.

Almost two years after radical Islamic preachers in Nigeria influenced parents against having their children vaccinated against polio for fear it was part of a U.S. plot against Muslims, a Nigerian strain of the virus that causes the crippling disease has occurred as far away as Indonesia. Many residents in Kano, northern Nigeria’s largest city still refuse to have their children vaccinated, not just against polio but against other childhood diseases such as measles. Mustafa Balarabe a 37-year-old father of four said his children wouldn’t be vaccinated, citing “the general Western plot against Muslims worldwide” as the reason. An imam in Kano, 50-year-old Ibrahim Abubakar, was unapologetic and said that the boycott of the polio vaccine in Kano was necessary to fulfil the religious injunction, which tells them to find out about a thing when they have doubts…

Good ‘religious’ injunction. Doubts of course are often highly useful and to the purpose – even without religious injunctions. There are certain email messages one may receive, for example, that one may seriously and correctly doubt contain any electronic information one wants to look at. Similarly, if a frenzied and not altogether clean stranger sitting next to me on the bus pulled a half-eaten sandwich out of a pocket and offered it to me, I wouldn’t say ‘thank you’ and eagerly wolf it down. I would have doubts. But – there are other factors, other variables. If I were on the verge of death from starvation, my doubts about that sandwich and its provenance might be outweighed by my urge to survive. So with polio vaccine. There is, for example, room for doubt about the existence of a ‘general Western plot against Muslims worldwide.’ There is also compelling motivation to avoid polio. Thus doubt about the vaccination was in competition with potential doubt about other matters, in this case; the imam seems not to have taken those other matters into account.

Fifteen other countries where polio had been eradicated have been re-infected from Nigeria since 2003, when northern Islamic leaders led a vaccine boycott, claiming the immunization campaigns were part of a U.S. plot to infect Muslims with AIDS or render them infertile. American officials have repeatedly said there is nothing to the allegations. Regional governors blocked U.N.-backed vaccination drives for several months, until they were satisfied in May 2004 by the purity of a vaccine, imported, ironically, from Indonesia. The preachers said supplies from a Muslim country could be trusted.

Really. The same way Iraq could be trusted not to attack Iran in 1980 for example? Where does this blithe trust in ‘Muslim’ countries (Indonesia does contain non-Muslims, after all) come from? Selective attention, apparently.

Since 2003, the paralysing, waterborne illness has spread from Nigeria to Sudan, where it has infected 149 people. Along with 10 other west and central African nations, it has also spread to Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia, but vaccination campaigns have averted major outbreaks in those countries. Nigeria poses the most serious risk, with its population of around 130 million, many of whom travel widely. The spread of the disease to Yemen last month was considered by WHO as “a major epidemic,” with 22 cases confirmed in a country that had previously been considered free of polio.

Well…those countries would seem to have some reason not to trust Muslim clerics giving advice on vaccinations, at any rate. Nice going, guys. Polio was nearly gone, and you’ve brought it back. Clever.

Allen also found this article in The Scientist.

The outbreak of the disease marks reappearance of wildtype polio in Indonesia for the first time since 1995. Molecular epidemiologists working for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have in the past few days clarified the likely route the virus took from Nigeria to Indonesia…Some press reports have suggested that Saudi Arabia or the Sudan might be the immediate source, Kew said, but “the genetic data suggest that most likely pathway was Nigeria to Chad to Sudan to Saudi Arabia to Indonesia.”…A recent CDC study demonstrated that at least 14 previously polio-free countries had importations of strains from the Nigeria-Niger endemic strains of 2003 and 2004. “Nigeria is a highly endemic country; it’s the heart of the poliovirus circulation in Africa,” said Christopher Maher, chief epidemiologist for the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) polio eradication group. Unfounded rumors the inoculation was made unsafe as part of a Western plot to make Muslim children infertile caused several northern Nigerian provinces to stop vaccination campaigns in 2003. The suspension, lasting 12 months in some areas, seeded polio outbreaks across central Africa countries.

What a depressing mess.

4 Responses to “Telling the Truth About Polio”