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Last Updated: Monday, 22 December, 2003, 23:45 GMT
Nigeria debates polio campaign
By Anna Borzello
BBC, Lagos

Nigeria's National Assembly has begun a hearing to discuss the controversy over the polio immunisation campaign in the north of the country.

The World Health Organisation aims to wipe out polio by 2005 - but this hope is being undermined by a resurgence of the potentially crippling disease in and around the northern city of Kano.

A child has his thumb painted with ink to show he has been immunised
The polio immunisation campaign was abandoned
Kano state authorities halted the polio immunisation campaign in August.

It followed rumours in the predominantly Muslim region hat the vaccine was laced with anti-fertility drugs, as part of a US plot to de-populate the developing world.

The WHO denies the claim, but Kano state authorities have set up a committee to investigate. Its findings have yet to be released.

Kano is at the heart of a resurgence of polio in Nigeria, with a 30% increase in cases since January. Despite this, State Governor Ibrahim Shekarau said the decision to suspend immunisation was justified.

"Unfortunately, polio is now radiating out from Kano," he said. "Some neighbouring states - Polio Free for the last two years - are registering new cases. And the disease is spreading even further."

WHO representative in Nigeria, Dr Mohammed Belhocine, said the organisation hoped Kano state would clear the vaccine by February.

"A lot is at stake," he said.

"The organisation says its goal of globally eradicating polio by 2005 is now under threat."

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