Suspicion and mistrust of Western medicine led Muslim religious leaders in three northern states of Nigeria to call for the 2003 boycott of the national polio vaccine campaign, according to a historical analysis in PLoS Medicine. The boycott led to fresh outbreaks of polio in Nigeria.
Ayodele Samuel Jegede (University of Ibadan, Nigeria), author of the analysis, says that the boycott needs to be considered in its proper historical and political context.
“The polio vaccination boycott,” says Jegede, “should not be considered in isolation, but rather in the context of the history of orthodox health services in northern Nigeria. Generally, utilization rates of orthodox health-care services in the region have always been low.”
In addition, says Jegede, Nigeria’s transition from a northern-led military regime to a southern-led democracy may have contributed to the boycott. “These changes have resulted in political tensions between the south and north. These tensions might explain why the religious leaders in northern states who boycotted the polio immunization campaign believed that the southern-led federal government was acting in the interestsof Western powers.”
It is important to learn lessons from the boycott, says the author, in order to prevent further boycotts of life-saving health interventions. “One lesson from the Kano boycott is that research is needed to investigate why people have concerns and fears about vaccination, and what steps should be taken to avoid boycotts in the future.”