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Cablegate: Nigeria: Northern Parents Reject Vaccines

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DE RUEHUJA #0876/01 1350953
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 140953Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY ABUJA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2840
INFO RUEHOS/AMCONSUL LAGOS 9217
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHS WASHDC
RUEHPH/CDC ATLANTA GA
RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
RHEBAAA/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHDC
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RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
RUZEJAA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK
RHMFISS/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ABUJA 000876

SIPDIS

STATE FOR AF/W
DOE FOR GEORGE PERSON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV SOCI TBIO KISL KOCI NI
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: NORTHERN PARENTS REJECT VACCINES

THIS MESSAGE IS SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. NOT FOR INTERNET
DISTRIBUTION.

1. (U) SUMMARY. Poloff and PolSpecialist spoke with Dr. Muhammad
Kabir, professor of community medicine at Bayero University in Kano,
and Bashir Sanusi, community health specialist with the Kano State
Ministry of Health, on April 16. Two themes clearly emerged: 1)
despite the recent outbreak of deadly diseases like meningitis,
measles and chicken pox in Kano and other parts of the North, Muslim
parents still resist immunizing their children; and 2) poor federal
funding of the medical sector leads to the emergence and reemergence
of fatal (though entirely preventable and/or treatable) diseases.
Polio has also reemerged as a major health threat in northern states
like Kano. END SUMMARY.

-----------------------------
PARENTS RESIST POLIO VACCINES
-----------------------------
2. (U) Kabir and Sanusi maintained that, on the basis of cultural
sensitivities, some Muslim parents in northern Nigeria continue to
resist calls to immunize their children against serious diseases,
noting that parents most often rejected polio immunization. In
particular, they noted that skeptical parents wondered why the GON
sends medical personnel to far-flung communities on polio
immunization campaigns while it fails to provide medical services
for more common diseases, including malaria, cholera and typhoid.
In addition, the mode of delivery of the polio vaccine (orally as
opposed to an injection), exacerbated these parents' suspicion, some
of whom otherwise approved of vaccines for their children delivered
by injection. Even the fact that the polio vaccine is administered
free of charge heightens suspicion, they contended, as even poor
Nigerians must pay for basic drugs to treat common, even fatal,
ailments like malaria. These suspicions also fuel conspiracy
theories and rumors of ulterior motives. Kabir and Sanusi
maintained newspaper coverage of a court case pending against Pfizer
for alleged problems resulting from the testing of a meningitis drug
in Kano and Jigawa states in 1996, has further heightened concerns
and provided ammunition to opponents of immunization.

-------------------------------------
INFLUENTIAL MUSLIMS BEHIND SUSPICIONS
-------------------------------------
3. (U) Kabir contended that suspicion of polio immunization in the
North initially had been advocated by two prominent northerners:
Datti Ahmad, a Kano-based physician turned Muslim cleric and Chair
of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria, and Najib Adamu, Emir
of Kazaure (Jigawa State) and a respected traditional elder. Ahmad
and Adamu argued that the polio vaccine was injurious to health and
urged fellow Muslims to reject the vaccination campaign altogether.
Considering the amount of influence both a medical expert and a
traditional elder held in the North, Kabir averred, most northerners
acceded to claims that the campaign's objectives were anything but
innocuous or beneficial. Other religious and traditional leaders
continue to spread this faulty message. According to Kabir, the
average northern Nigerian, already suspicious of mass polio
immunization, believes the vaccine may be a plan by the West to
control or eliminate the Muslim population and/or to spread the HIV
virus among the Muslim population in Nigeria.

--------------------------------------------
MENINGITIS, MEASLES, CHICKEN POX ON THE RISE
--------------------------------------------
4. (U) Kabir and Sanusi told us that air-borne diseases like
meningitis, measles and chicken pox are ravaging families and
communities in the North, leading to hundreds of deaths in Kano and
elsewhere. They maintained a source told them as many as 700 people
have died in Sokoto State as a result of cerebral-spinal meningitis.
Hundreds of children have been diagnosed with measles. (NOTE: A
recent media report quoted a Nigerian Red Cross official that "an
estimated five million persons, mostly children are at risk of being
affected by the health emergencies of measles and cholera" across
the North.")

--------------------------------
EMERGENT AND RE-EMERGENT DISEASES
--------------------------------
5. (U) Kabir and Sanusi complained that insufficient immunization
coverage, corruption and poor funding of the health sector have led
to the emergence of new infectious diseases (HIV-AIDS, lassa fever,

ABUJA 00000876 002 OF 002


ebola virus) and the reemergence of formerly contained diseases
(polio, tetanus, malaria, river blindness and tuberculosis).
Predictably, Kabir and Sanusi said, families that refuse routine
immunization are also the worst hit by these emergent diseases, with
the exception of HIV-AIDS - the rates of which have declined in
urban centers like Kano and risen in rural northern areas.

6. (SBU) The Ambassador raised immunization issues, and particularly
our concern about the resurgence of polio, with the Sultan of
Sokoto, who is senior to most of the emirs in the central and
northeast regions. The Sultan said he would be willing to continue
to voice support for polio immunization, but also wants to ensure
that the new immunization campaigns address the new strains in the
virus. He added that he would "work with the other emirs" to bring
a better understanding of the issue. The Ambassador promised to
send the Sultan the most recent information on polio eradication
campaigns.

------------------------------------------
COMMENT: OPPORTUNITY TO CHANGE PERCEPTIONS
------------------------------------------
7. (SBU) Perceptions that polio immunization is either harmful to
one's health or part of a global conspiracy to eliminate Muslim
populations pervade northern Nigeria. Limited access to reliable
health information undermines USG and Nigerian NGO efforts to
counter suspicion and carry out successful immunization drives.
USAID and its Nigerian NGO partners regularly bring together
religious leaders, including northern imams, to discuss immunization
and other public health services and are working with stakeholders
to develop an Islamic HIV/AIDS policy. Nigeria's preeminent
traditional Islamic leader, the Sultan of Sokoto (in conjunction
with other health professionals and religious leaders), has
expressed an interest in partnering with the USG to promote
development and improve perceptions toward immunization in the
North. To this end, the Sultan has already recorded public service
announcements promoting public health services, including
immunizations. Such initiatives offer our best chances for changing
public perceptions and combating both emergent and re-emergent
diseases. END COMMENT.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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