Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Polio and Religious Paranoia

This is in today's edition of the British Times:

Nigerian Muslims block polio injections

By Michael Dynes, Africa Correspondent

MUSLIM fundamentalists in Nigeria are blocking emergency efforts to contain an outbreak of polio, claiming that vaccines are part of an American conspiracy to spread HIV-Aids and make Muslims infertile.

Resistance to the £6 million anti-polio drive that began on Wednesday is putting the health and lives of millions of children at risk and undermining international efforts to eradicate the disease across the world, according to health experts.

Kano, Kaduna and Zamfara, three predominantly Muslim states in northern Nigeria, have delayed or refused permission for the World Health Organisation (WHO) vaccination drive, demanding proof that the vaccination is “safe”.

While Christian and Muslim families in the south of Africa’s most populous country are co-operating with international efforts to stamp out the polio outbreak, Muslims in the conservative north insist that they will not allow their children to be vaccinated against the disease.

“The Western world has never wished Muslims well,” Yakubu Husseini, a 20-year-old teacher, said. “Why should they expect us to believe that vaccinations they make these days are not another frontier to wage war against the Muslims?”

Health officials estimate that the recent outbreak spreading from Nigeria to neighbouring countries could put as many as 15 million children at risk. “Polio continues to spread within Nigeria to areas which were polio-free, and to neighbouring countries,” David Heyman, the head of the WHO’s campaign to stamp out the disease, said.

To be fair, though, there is a bit more to the story, as the following excerpt from the same article makes clear.

Nigerian Muslims have been suspicious of Western vaccinations since 1996, when families in Kano accused the New York-based Pfizer pharmaceutical firm of using an experimental meningitis drug on patients without informing them of the risks. Pfizer denied wrongdoing in the American courts, but the case is continuing.

Still, reading on also makes clear that this does go beyond the limits of rational scepticism:

Datti Ahmed, a respected Nigerian doctor who leads an Islamic fundamentalist pressure group, added to Muslim fears earlier this year when he accused the WHO of covertly spreading anti- fertility drugs, a claim that the Nigerian Government and the United Nations dismissed as unfounded.

What is striking about this story is the resemblance Ahmed's theory displays to rumors that have long made the rounds of the Middle East about "Zionist" chewing gum designed to either sexually corrupt Arab youth, or render Arab manhood impotent, depending on which rumor one chooses to listen to. There really is a cancer working its' way through the Islamic world, and as both Africapundit and Mahathir's recent outburst make clear, the problems extend far beyond the Middle-Eastern arena with which most of the West seems to be currently preoccupied.