Shekarau’s Legacy

The BBC reports on polio in Yemen:

Health authorities in Yemen say 83 children have been diagnosed with polio, nearly double the figure reported just over a week ago.

…Sixteen previously polio-free countries have reported new cases since 2003, when a polio vaccine boycott in Nigeria was blamed for spreading the disease.

…Experts suspect the strain could have been carried from Nigeria to other countries by migrant workers or pilgrims visiting Muslim holy sites in Saudi Arabia.

Hardline Islamic clerics claimed the polio vaccination was part of a plot by the US to make people infertile or give them HIV-Aids.

More details about the other countries affected can be seen at this AP report from earlier this month; the data appears to de derived from this study produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I wrote about the vaccine boycott back in the very early days of this blog. Lest we forget, two figures bear most responsibility for the tragedy: Ibrahim Shekarau, the governor of Kano state in Northern Nigeria; and Hussain Abdulkareem, a professor at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital.

Briefly: early last year, the Nigerian federal government sent Muslim scientists to India and South Africa to allay the fears generated by Islamist conspiracy-mongers concerning the vaccine. Their report was that the vaccine was quite safe: there was a minute amount of the female hormone estriadiol in the polio vaccines, but less than can be found in Western drinking water. Shekarau ignored the committee’s conclusion, and announced that it had in fact found contamination. He also made the bizarre and irrelevant objection that the committee was not valid because although it contained representatives of a Muslim group, it did not also feature a Christian group.

The wretched Abdulkareem then chimed in with further nonsense: the polio vaccine causes AIDS, as well as cancer. Like Shekarau, he also distorted the committee’s findings to claim that it had declared the vaccines to be “contaminated” with estriadoil, and gave a lurid account of how estriadoil can lead to genital deformation in males – omitting that this would only occur at a much higher dosage. After publishing this opinion, he then wrote a second article in which he quoted his first piece, but put his conclusions in the mouths of the committee. Clearly, as a professor in a hospital Abdulkareem’s culpability is greater than that of the Imams who spread the hysteria.

Kano resumed its vaccination programme in July, after arranging to purchase supplies from Indonesia – Abdulkareem’s response to that development is unknown to me. But this is not just a tale of religious radicalism: at the time of the boycott, President Obasanjo made the accusation that

one of the Muslim leaders opposing the immunisation programme had unsuccessfully sought a government contract to import new vaccines.

It would be interesting to know who that person was, and who exactly has profited from the supplier switch in Kano.

(My original entries on the subject can be seen here and here. Most of the links are now dead.)