good-riddance-to-polio-a_1

good-riddance-to-polio-a_1

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of online exclusives about natural phenomena and human endeavors we’d like to see come to an end. They are connected with the September 2010 special issue of Scientific American called “The End”.

Even so, cultural animosities in isolated pockets of the world have conspired to keep global health authorities from stamping out the disease altogether. In 2003, for instance, the World Health Organization’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative mounted a Herculean effort to vaccinate 15 million Nigerian children.

But prominent leaders from the country’s Islamic community tarred and feathered the campaign, warning citizens that the vaccine was part of an imperialist U.S. plan to keep Nigeria’s population down. “We believe that modern-day Hitlers have deliberately adulterated the oral polio vaccines with antifertility drugs and…viruses which are known to cause HIV and AIDS,” prominent physician Datti Ahmed told journalists at the time. Part of the suspicion traces back to the late 1990s, when U.S.-based drug company Pfizer showed up to administer a test of its experimental drug Trovan in the wake of a meningitis epidemic. Dozens of Nigerian children suffered major side effects, including paralysis, deafness and liver damage.

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