Unbiased Analysis of Today's Healthcare Issues

Why did the people of Nigeria reject the polio vaccine?

Written By: Jason Shafrin - Jan• 12•10

From a letter in Health Affairs:

In 1996 Pfizer came to Kano to administer a test of the drug Trovan for a meningitis outbreak. One hundred children were given Trovan, and another hundred were given chloramphenicol, a drug approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).  Of the 200 children, eleven died due to Trovan and low dosages of chloramphenicol, and many others suffered injuries (paralysis, deafness, blindness, brain damage, liver damage, and joint disease) from Trovan. The U.S. Food
and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Trovan for adults in 1997 but severely restricted its use in 1999. Europe banned it outright.

In 2000 a Nigerian report exposed the negative outcomes from this drug trial; in Kano there were street demonstrations and demands for reform. Thirty families sued Pfizer in 2001, and in 2007 the Nigerian and Kano State governments also sued for damages. In February 2009 there was an out-of-court settlement
for a reported $45 million.

This incidentwas on everyone’s mind when WHO personnel showed up in Kano with an American-made vaccine for polio eradication…There was a political dimension to this problem, but people were wary of any medicine from the United States.  When Muslim religious leaders stated that the vaccine would sterilize young girls—a terrible outcome like that of Trovan—the program was “boycotted.”

  • Alan Frishman, Hobart and Wm. Smith Colleges, Geneva, New York

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One Comment

  1. Musa Sani Yanusa says:

    This is sensational rubbish. This article shows how little the writer knows about happenings in Nigeria. The Trovan tests had absolutely nothing to do with the rejection of polio vaccines in the northern part of Nigeria; not just in Kano. The problem is traceable to ignorance, primitive politics and the wickedness of the ruling elite. The population is preponderantly illiterate. The politicians from that part of the country had an axe to grind with the former president who was a Christian (a follow-up to their declaration of Sharia Law in most of the northern states) and so mounted a campaign that the immunization campaign was a Christian ploy to depopulate the largely Muslim north. They claimed that there was a chemical embedded in the vaccine which was meant to sterilize male children and destroy the womb of female children.
    The campaign was more virulent in states controlled by the opposition party, ANPP, which were engaged in do-or-die battles with the president’s PDP. Those of us in Non-Governmental Organizations in Nigeria mounted a counter-campaign against these wicked people. The ruling elite in the northern states immunized their own children and left the offspring of the poor to battle with the dreaded disease.
    Now, on the sociological front, you have to understand why polio infection is not considered as disastrous as an outsider may think. Street begging is rife in the north. A polio victim can be sure of his daily bread if he or she takes to street begging. Almsgiving is one of the pillars of Islam. You have to visit the major cities in Northern Nigeria to see the scale of polio and other infections to understand that the Trovan trials had nothing whatsoever to do with the rejection of polio vaccines. We have had millions of physically disabled people before 1996 when Pfizer’s Trovan trials took place.
    Now that the World Health Organization has disclosed that Nigeria is the weak link in the polio eradication chain on the west coast of Africa, our Emirs and religious leaders in the north have risen to the challenge. Campaigns are now being mounted in Hausa language over the media to educate the people and encourage them to give their children a chance to live a healthy life by getting immunized against polio, meningitis and other diseases.
    It will do a world of good if foreign commentators take time out to do a bit of research on subjects such as this before they mount the podium to spread tendentious rumours

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