Muslim Scholars Oppose Anti-Polio Drive

A bid to drive the scourge of polio out of Nigeria once and for all has come under threat from the pulpit, where Islamic preachers are opposing vaccination.

Health officials said Wednesday that the campaign was still on course, but sceptical Muslim scholars are striving to capitalise on distrust of the West and fear inspired by the failed Pfizer drug test in 1996 in which many people died.

"We will kick against any preventative measure that is clouded by political and economic subjugation, and other intrigues like the 'new world order' and globalisation," said Muhammad Bin Uthman.

The young Islamic scholar has become one of the most outspoken opponents of an internationally funded immunisation drive to eliminate the pockets of polio, a crippling disease.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) aims to eradicate polio in Nigeria by the end of the year and from the other highly popualted regions where it is still endemic by 2005.

Health officials believe the goal is attainable after a coordinated 14-year global campaign brought down cases across the world by 99.8 per cent from 350,000 in 1988 to 600 in 2001.

Last month, a WHO-backed immunisation drive was launched on the Nigeria-Niger frontier North of the city of Kano, where is a Uthman preacher, in a region with a large Muslim majority.

But despite attempts by health officials to talk them round, many of the influential Ulama (Islamic scholars) in the area have attacked the drive in sermons, undermining its support.