In 2003, imams in northern Nigeria fomented a boycott of polio vaccinations, claiming they were a Western plot to make Muslims infertile or infect them with AIDS. The result: The number of newly crippled children more than doubled the following year, and there were fears that the disease would spread into a dozen countries nearby.
Now, after another tripling of cases in 2008, a big new anti-polio push is under way in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. And this time, some Muslim clerics have made themselves part of the solution, joining community leaders, health workers and the victims themselves in waging the war.
In the dusty streets of Kano, northern Nigeria’s main city, town criers with bullhorns cut through the traffic and crowds, urging parents to take their children to one of hundreds of vaccination centers. Radio and newspapers are full of get-vaccinated ads.