IDS working papers;261

Polio vaccines : difficult to swallow : the story of a controversy in northern Nigeria

Published on 1 January 2006

Global health and poverty reduction discourses have recognised immunisation as one of the
most affordable and effective means of reducing child mortality and in a broader sense, as an
essential contribution to poverty reduction efforts. While immunisation comes with countless
benefits, it is potentially a complex and difficult health strategy to enforce. Decisions on
broader health as well as immunisation goals are often made at a global level to be
incorporated and adapted in to national health plans and budgets. Evidently for immunisation
campaigns, the journey from the global to the local is a vulnerable and unpredictable one.
Indeed ‘anti-vaccination rumours’ have been defined as a major threat to achieving vaccine
coverage goals.
This is demonstrated in this paper through a case study of responses to the Global Polio
Eradication Campaign (GPEI) in northern Nigeria where Muslim leaders ordered the boycott
of the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV). A 16-month controversy resulted from their allegations that
the vaccines were contaminated with anti-fertility substances and the HIV virus was a plot by
Western governments to reduce Muslim populations worldwide. Through desk and field
research, this paper explores the political and cultural angles of this controversy revealing
deeper dimensions and complex factors that have contributed to the rejection of the Oral
Polio Vaccine (OPV) in northern Nigeria.
Through the lens of the local northern Nigerian communities, this paper examines and brings
to question the roles, responsibilities and actions of global and national actors in
implementing effective immunisation campaigns with a view to curbing and managing ‘antivaccination
rumours’ and informing better practices for international health partnerships. I
will argue that while the polio vaccine boycott has proved costly in both economic and
human terms, it has opened up important lines of communication at both global and
national levels, deepening dialogue, participation and sensitivity.
Keywords: Nigeria, polio, vaccination, immunisation.

Publication details

published by
Yahya, Maryam


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