L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

06 October 2007 Blog Home : October 2007 : Permalink

Duking it Out

In one of those things that the blogosphere is so good for, I see that Duke University shows up in the news in two ways this week. Way one is the continuing fall out from the Lacrosse "rape" case. Way two is via Right Speak which reports on bad news from Nigeria:

A polio outbreak in Nigeria was caused by the vaccine designed to stop it, international health officials say, leaving at least 69 children paralyzed.

It is a frightening paradox in a part of the world that already distrusts western vaccines, making it even tougher to stamp out age-old diseases.

The outbreak was caused by the live polio virus that is used in vaccines given orally — the preferred method in developing countries because it is cheaper and doesn't require medical training to dispense.


Experts say such outbreaks only happen when too few children are vaccinated. In northern Nigeria, only about 39 percent of children are fully protected against polio.

The oral polio vaccine contains a weakened version of polio virus. Children who have been vaccinated excrete the virus, and in unsanitary conditions it can end up in the water supply, spreading to unvaccinated children.

In rare instances, as the virus passes through unimmunized children, it can mutate into a form that is dangerous enough to spark new outbreaks.

And yes this is very sad. But why you may ask are only 39% of Nigerian children not fully protected? Now we get to the tricky bit. You see part of the reason is that various Muslim leaders in Northern Nigeria claim that the polio vaccine is actually a cunning plot by the West to sterilize Nigerians (old report):

What is going on with Nigerian Islam these days? First, they implement a crude and merciless form of shari'a (see Amina Lawal) that brought down Muslim condemnation from around the world. Now they're urging people not to take the polio vaccine, which they say "makes girls sterile" - poisoned in a US plot to reduce the Muslim population. The imams are probably saying that because they want more Muslim children, but their actions are having the opposite effect - over 600 Muslim children have contracted the disease, 15 million children in neighboring countries are at risk, and the World Health Organization's goal of eradicating polio globally by 2005 is threatened. The Nigerian government is desperately negotiating with the imams to get them to change their mind, but the imams conducted an "independent" test of the vaccine which they say confirms their findings.

This, and a number of medical cockups that help feed these conspiracy theories, leads to a situation where Nigerian children are dying from a disease that has been eradicated almost everywhere else in the world.

What has this secodn story to do with Duke? Well in the article there is this quote:

"Convincing the Nigerians to take even more of this vaccine will be a tough sell," said Dr. Samuel Katz, an infectious diseases specialist at Duke University and co-inventor of the measles vaccine.

Given their support for wild fables in their own neighbourhood one wonders whether Duke's group of 88 agree with their fellow academic or prefer to follow their precedent and agree with the Nigerian Imams and their conspiracy theories with regards to Western medicine?