The World Health Organization has sent an inspection team to investigate a suspected large-scale polio outbreak in a northern Nigerian state where polio vaccinations had been suspended by the governor, who alleged the drive was part of a U.S. plot against Muslims.
The suspected outbreak is centered in Kano, one of several northern Nigerian states with heavily Muslim populations that halted vaccinations last year.
On Friday, local officials in the city of Rogo disclosed they had recorded dozens of suspected polio cases in recent weeks. Rogo is 60 miles southeast of the state capital, also named Kano.
Each of 15 districts in Rogo has seen an average of two cases, Nasril Dalha, city council vice chairman, told local Freedom Radio. All cases showed symptoms -- fever, fatigue, stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs -- associated with polio, with some already resulting in paralysis.
Dalha appealed for intervention by Kano state government. "If this is not addressed quickly, I'm afraid more children will be affected," he said.
The World Health Organization has sent a team to the area to assess the reported outbreak, a WHO official said today, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Unless tests are conducted, we can't say it's polio," the official said.
In September, Kano state Gov. Ibrahim Shekarau suspended participation in a global immunization program on the grounds that local scientists had discovered traces of a hormone in foreign-made vaccines that they feared could make girls infertile.
Some local Islamic leaders accused the Nigerian federal government of being part of a U.S. plot to kill off Muslims with the vaccines.
The WHO insisted the vaccines were safe, and urged that vaccinations resume to stave off a resurgence of the paralyzing disease.
Kano continued to shun vaccination after the other states rejoined the campaign in March. Kano state finally announced in late May it had found "safe vaccines" in the heavily Muslim nation of Indonesia and would use those to resume vaccinations shortly.
WHO officials in Geneva said Wednesday they expected immunization to resume there within days; local officials in Kano have not yet publicly committed to a date.
Sule Ya'u Sule, Kano state spokesman, on Friday refused to comment on the reported outbreak in Rogo.
Since Kano suspended polio immunization, there has been a resurgence of cases across 10 African countries previously polio-free, with strains traced to Nigeria.
Nigeria has reported 259 polio cases this year. The figure represents more than 60% of the 339 cases reported worldwide. It accounted for nearly 50 percent of 784 cases reported in a total of 15 countries in 2003.