Friday, October 13, 2006

Saudi Arabia says Muslims on the Hajj pilgrimage must have polio immunization certificates if they come from states where the disease is endemic

BBC News:

The requirement affects people from Nigeria, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Saudi authorities say.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned there could be a resurgence of the virus unless it is eradicated.

Fears of a plot to sterilise Muslim girls have hampered polio vaccination campaigns in northern Nigeria.

For good measure, pilgrims arriving from Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India will be given an extra dose of polio vaccine as they arrive in Saudi Arabia.

A few years ago, the WHO came close to wiping out this paralysing disease for good.

The fruits of a vigorous 20-year campaign were becoming clear as the numbers of child victims dropped from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands, and finally down to a few hundred restricted to just four countries - Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.

Then things started to go wrong, particularly in largely Muslim northern Nigeria, where certain local politicians starting spreading rumours that the polio immunisation programme was an American plot to sterilise Muslim girls.

The programme went into reverse, and new outbreaks were recorded, spreading well beyond the endemic regions.

So Saudi Arabia has imposed new restrictions ahead of the December Hajj.

Saudi Deputy Health Minister Yacoub Yousef al-Mazrui said Muslims in Nigeria and the three other endemic countries should face no problems.

"Fortunately, the vaccine is so cheap that it doesn't cost much and it's available everywhere in Nigeria, because Nigeria is holding more and more campaigns for vaccinating their children against poliomyelitis," he said.

The BBC's Alex Last in Nigeria says immunisation rates are now high in some parts of northern Nigeria.

But our reporter says some people are still suspicious of the vaccine in the country with more polio cases than anywhere else.

Furthermore, very few adults possess a vaccination certificate, as names were often simply ticked on a list, our reporter says.

About 70,000 Nigerians are expected to travel on the Hajj this year and a senior health official said next week the government would sit down with the Nigerian Pilgrims Board to work out how the new documentation would be arranged.

But our reporter says time is short.

Last year bureaucratic delays and problems with aircraft assigned to the pilgrimage left many stranded and caused a national outcry.

But there has been no official criticism of Saudi Arabia for the new rules.

Nigeria and India Cited in Rise of Polio Cases

Health experts see risk of major polio resurgence

Global Polio Eradication May Take Time

Religious Fundamentalists say polio vaccination really sterility drug for Muslims

Nigeria Steps Up Vaccination Campaign After Lapse

What's Behind India's Outbreak of Polio Paranoia


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