The number of new polio cases in Nigeria jumped by 36% to 1,111 in 2006 thanks to an immunization ban in the Muslim north
Nigeria, which has been struggling to contain polio since some northern states imposed a year-long vaccine ban in mid-2003, accounted for 56 percent of the world's new cases of polio last year, the official said.
"Much of the outbreak was at the beginning of the year and this was due to high transmission in the latter part of 2005," said Pascal Mkanda, the WHO's medical officer for immunization programs in Nigeria.
"But although the overall figure for 2006 was up, we saw a big decline during the high transmission period from May to November," Mkanda told Reuters.
A change in vaccination strategy in June 2006 had paid off, said Mkanda, with authorities offering vaccines for a variety of diseases and mosquito nets at fixed posts on "Immunization Plus" days instead of going house-to-house offering only polio vaccines.
The policy had encouraged more families to bring their children forward for immunization, helping cut polio transmission during the most dangerous months of the year.
The bulk of polio cases last year were found in three of the northern states that had banned the vaccine in 2003. They were Kano with 347 cases, Katsina with 179 and Jigawa with 133.
Some state governors and religious leaders in the predominantly Muslim north alleged the vaccines were contaminated by Western powers to spread sterility and HIV/AIDS among Muslims.
The ban caused a dramatic increase in polio infections and the virus spread from northern Nigeria to many other countries, including some where polio had been eradicated.
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