Tue, Feb 22, 2005 - Page 6 News List

African presidents lead anti-polio vaccination blitz

AP , Seme, Nigeria

Squeezing drops of vaccine into the mouths of wailing babies, the presidents of Nigeria and Benin launched a redoubled drive against polio to regain progress lost after a vaccine-boycott led by Muslim clerics set back eradication efforts.

Under tight security, with snipers on the roofs of border posts scouring the surrounding vegetation, Presidents Mathieu Kerekou of Benin and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria launched the polio campaign Sunday as dance troupes pranced to pounding drums.

The presidential doctoring is a prelude to a four-day, 22-nation vaccination blitz in west and central Africa.Africa. The vaccine boycott -- led last year by Islamic hard-liners who believed the vaccination campaign was a plot to sterilize or kill Muslims -- is blamed for spreading the crippling disease back into more than a dozen African countries where it had previously been eradicated.

UN agencies enlisted the presidents to encourage popular acceptance of the vaccine this time, after heavily northern Islamic states ended their ban.

Obasanjo, who is also current chairman of the African Union, said African leaders resolved at their summit last month in Nigeria to eradicate polio in the continent but need help to marshal resources to achieve the objective.

"African leaders have the political will but not enough funds" to fight polio, Obasanjo said.

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