Nigeria poised to launch major polio vaccination drive - UN envoy

17 March 2004
Ibrahim Gambari briefs journalists

Having resolved controversies over the oral polio vaccine, Nigeria, which was the source of the re-emergence of the disease in the region, is now ready to relaunch its national drive to eradication the paralyzing and often fatal illness, the UN envoy on the issue said today.

Last August, the northern Nigerian state of Kano suspended the anti-polio drive, sparking an uncontrolled polio epidemic. As a result, in 2003, Nigeria represented 43 per cent of all global polio cases, while the disease spread to eight formerly polio-free African countries.

In response, the Secretary-General dispatched Ibrahim Gambari to the country to ensure that Nigeria begin a nationwide polio immunization drive as soon as possible. The envoy travelled extensively across the country and met with top-level officials - past and present - as well as religious and other leaders.

Speaking to reporters in New York today, Mr. Gambari said a Nigerian committee had reported on the safety of the oral polio vaccine. "While the contents are still confidential, the tone was quite positive," he said.

The report has been submitted to President Olusegun Obasanjo. "What we are hearing is that all the 33 members of the committee are signing on to its conclusion, and the conclusion appears to be positive," he said.

The President is meeting with key leaders "to sensitize them to the contents of the report, the safety of the vaccine, and to lay the foundation for resuming immunization throughout the country," Mr. Gambari added.

When the campaign resumes - "hopefully on March 22" - the President has promised to personally join the bid to ensure that all children are vaccinated.

The envoy said he has appealed to all concerned to "reduce the level of rhetoric in the media on both sides" while the modalities of resuming the immunization drive are worked out.

"The steps already taken or outlined by the authorities and other stakeholders in Nigeria, if fully implemented - and I'm cautiously optimistic that it will be - will no doubt contribute significantly to the resumption of polio immunization campaigns throughout Nigeria, and thereby advance the goal of global eradication of polio," he said.


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