Gunmen have shot to death nine anti-polio workers in northern Nigeria, in the latest setback to the country’s efforts to eradicate the disease.
The gunmen opened fire Feb. 8 on a health center in Hotoro district in Kano state, killing seven workers. An hour later, an attack on another clinic in Haye District took two lives. The blame fell on Islamist militant group Boko Haram, whose members allegedly killed three Chinese doctors in Potiskum State just two days earlier.
The killing of health workers in Nigeria eerily echo recent attacks in Pakistan, where Islamist militants suspect that the vaccination of children is seen as a coverup to spy on Taliban force.
Polio cases have decreased by 99 percent since 1988 but the highly infectious disease remains endemic in Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan.
The Muslim-dominated northern part of Nigeria has a history of rejecting polio vaccines. In 2003, the governors of Kano, Kaduna and Zamfara states decided to suspend polio vaccination programs until local scientists proved that the vaccines would not cause infertility and the virus would not spread HIV/AIDS.
A speaker of the Kano governor was quoted in a 2007 article as saying: “Since September 11, the Muslim world is beginning to be suspicious of any move from the Western world… Our people have become concerned about polio vaccine.”
Adding to these concerns were reports last year that suggested the United States used a polio vaccination program to identify the whereabouts of the late al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
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