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Nigerian Polio Vaccine Ban Lifted

The governor of a heavily Muslim state in Nigeria revoked a 11-month ban on polio vaccinations Monday, stressing he was "satisfied" the U.N.-regulated vaccines were safe despite persistent rumors they are part of an American plot to make girls infertile.

Gov. Ibrahim Shekarau of Kano state called for polio vaccinations to begin as soon as possible, a prospect that U.N. health workers have welcomed to stem a growing outbreak of the potentially crippling disease.

"We are satisfied. Hence our decision to direct the Ministry of Health ... to begin all preparations for the conduct of vaccinations," Shekarau told journalists.

The announcement ended more than a month of speculation on the vaccine ban. Despite U.N. reports last month that immunizations were due to begin soon, Kano officials had followed Shekarau's orders not to comment on the ban.

Since Kano suspended vaccinations last August, the ban has set back a 15-year global campaign to eliminate the disease by 2005, according to U.N. health officials.

The ban's reversal came after a team of officials from Kano were "satisfied with the process of production" of polio vaccines by Biopharma, an Indonesian company from which he said Kano would be procuring future supplies, Shekarau said.

Federal officials assured the governor that vaccines used in other parts of the country would also be "sourced" from Biopharma, Shekarau said. Indonesia is one of five countries where U.N. authorities have assured safe production of the vaccines.

Kano has become the global epicenter of the disease, mushrooming to neighboring countries where polio was previously thought to have been eradicated. Nigeria has reported more than 250 polio cases this year, compared with 56 in the same period in 2003.

Epidemiologists fear a major epidemic this fall — the start of the polio "high season." The disease already has appeared in nine sub-Saharan African countries, after being limited to only two at the beginning of last year.

Polio is a waterborne disease that usually infects young children, attacking the nervous system and causing paralysis, muscular atrophy, deformation and sometimes death.

U.N. health workers, who have consistently maintained that all vaccines used in Nigeria are safe, applauded Shekarau's decision.

"We welcome this decision because it is in the best interests of the Nigerian child. The country now fights polio with united force. It is a unique opportunity to spare future generations from this crippling disease," said Gerrit Beger, a spokesman for the United Nations Children's Fund in Nigeria's capital, Abuja.

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