Muslim Clerics from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa have expressed concern that the World Health Organization has fallen under control of the West. As a result, they have been giving their followers a lesson in Western civilization and early American History by telling the story of two Englishmen, Jeffrey Amherst, and Captain Simeon Ecuyer. Their names have been tarnished by stories of smallpox-infected blankets, which they distributed to and used as germ warfare against the American Indians. This early example of biological warfare started an epidemic among them. The Clerics have been using this tale to conjure up fears among their followers that a Western dominated United Nations was carrying on the tradition through the WHO’s polio vaccination campaign.
In 1988, the W.H.O. expressed their hope to eradicate polio by the end of 2005 and in fact, the number of cases is now only 1% of what it was when the $4.6 billion program began in 1988. Health officials believe this is feasible after a coordinated 14-year global campaign brought down cases around the world by 99.8%, from 350,000 in 1988, to 600 in 2001.
The United Nation Health Agency seemed on the verge of following up on its successful eradication of small pox, but now that goal has been jeopardized by an unfortunate combination of religious fanaticism and ignorance.
In 2003, there where 676 new cases of the crippling disease, and half of them were in Nigeria. The Nigerian state of Kano suspended the polio vaccine campaign and set up a committee to investigate the claims of Muslim Clerics alleging that the vaccines are contaminated with the HIV virus and are claiming that it is all part of an American abetted plot to control the population of the third world.
Northern Nigeria has been swept by a wave of Islamic fundamentalism lead by radical Muslim clerics who have been urging people not to take the polio vaccine, which they say, can also make girls sterile.
A large number of people have been panicked into not taken the vaccine causing a predictable result, which is that polio has begun spreading again in Africa. WHO officials articulate that they now fear that as a result some countries will begin refusing other vaccinations which will leave the region more vulnerable than it already is to periodic epidemics of measles, mumps, and cholera.
The tragedy is that this is not the first American sponsored program administered through the U.N. and WHO. For example, there is no question that Africa had been hit the hardest by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Initiatives in countries like Zambia and Uganda, with little in the way of resources, but with active and early commitment made great progress in controlling that disease, prompting Senior Epidemiologist of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, Bernhard Schwartlander to express his hope for success with the polio campaign. Schwartlander, who heads a diverse panel whose responsibility is to update correspondents on the status of the polio effort, emerging global and regional trends of the virus, added that what was needed now was for the international community, particularly donors, to build on those positive efforts in other parts of the continent and around the world.
The WHO has convened a meeting of West African health officials in Geneva to try to prevent the situation from becoming even more serious. This however will create an opportunity for the anti-American Muslim leaders to step up with their lethal and horribly misguided rhetoric with their claims that the U.N. polio program will decrease the Third World population.
The WHO maintains that extensive scientific tests have been carried to ensure the vaccines are safe, but stresses that it will not administer a medicine without consent. The western world should not be hasty in condemning the clerics and the Nigerian government. Rather, it should proceed with restraint and caution given that governments and social leaders do have the right as well as obligation to question the safety of vaccinations they are supposed to administer to their citizens, especially when the appropriate bodies did not explain the safety issues to them.
The polio vaccine controversy displays the inability of the Nigerian Government and the WHO in conveying appropriate vaccination messages to the Nigerian public. In addition, as stated in a BBC interview with the son of Jonas Salk, who invented the Polio vaccine,the particular vaccination currently being administered seems to have problems. A growing number of medical researchers fear that a monkey virus that contaminated polio vaccine given to tens of millions of Americans in the 1950s and ’60s may be causing rare human cancers. For four decades, government officials have insisted that there is no evidence the simian virus called SV40 is harmful to humans. However, in recent years, dozens of scientific studies have found the virus in a steadily increasing number of rare brain, bone, and lung-related tumors – the same malignant cancer SV40 causes in lab animals. In addition, simian DNA has been tied to the HIV virus.
The recent Lancet report on the WHO’s failure to provide effective malaria vaccines to the critical point of condemning some Africans to death in an attempt to cut financial loses, validates the concerns of the Nigerian clerics and other African governments. The WHO has to show Africans, especially the Nations of East Africa as well as other developing Nations that it is not under the control of the West but an organization working on behalf of poor nations around the world.
The World Health Organization