14 February 2013

Nigeria: Anti-Polio Killings - Attacks Will Not Deter us - Minister

Kano — Nigerian officials vowed to push ahead with polio vaccination campaigns on Thursday after last week's deadly attacks on two polio clinics, while the brother of a victim also urged action.

Junior health minister Muhammad Ali Pate told officials and traditional chiefs in the northern city of Kano, where the attacks which killed at least 10 people occurred, that the government would not be deterred.

"For the cause that they were killed, helping children by protecting them from a disease that can be prevented, we will continue," Pate, who has spearheaded Nigeria's anti-polio efforts, told a gathering at the office for the governor of Kano state.

The younger brother of Hauwa Abdulazeez, a 50-year-old mother of seven who was one of the vaccinators killed, said her death would be in vain if polio campaigns stopped.

"This should not end the eradication project," Mairiga Abdulazeez told AFP outside the palace of the local emir, where Pate also spoke.

"My sister died serving her community and I'm proud of that, although her death is shocking and painful."

Gunmen stormed two clinics where polio vaccination workers had gathered on February 8, killing at least 10 people.

The attacks came after a radio programme reported on claims of forced vaccinations and allegedly revived conspiracy theories about the vaccines.

Claims that polio vaccinations are used to render Muslims infertile have long spread in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north, often stoked by local politicians and clerics, dealing setbacks to efforts to eradicate the crippling disease.

Two journalists and a cleric involved in the programme were granted bail on Thursday after being charged earlier this week for incitement, among other charges.

Nigeria is one of only three countries still considered to have endemic polio, along with Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It is not yet clear who was responsible for the attacks at the clinics and there was no evidence linking the radio programme to the violence.

Islamist extremist group Boko Haram has carried out attacks in Kano, though gangs linked to local politics also operate.

Kano's Deputy Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje said the state would not be discouraged by the attacks in its commitment to stamp out polio.

"This unfortunate incidence cannot deter us from our continued journey to eradicate polio not only in Kano state but in the whole country," Ganduje said.

The state would further strengthen routine polio immunisation to speed up eradication of the crippling disease, he said. (AFP)

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