The fear of vaccines: fear that a vaccine used by the WHO to combat polio can cause sterility in both men and women, has spurred some Northern Nigerian states to block a crucial vaccination campaign that is aimed at eradicating the disease from West Africa by the end 2004. it reminds me of my boyhood in Ghana.

Author:Duodu, Cameron
Position:Under the Neem Tree
 
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I bear on my forearm, two deep scars. I can never forget how they came to be there. Our school was vaccinated--I don't know against what, though I guess it must have been small pox--and I ended up with those two huge scars.

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The whole thing was, and continues to be, a great mystery to me. Normally, we were vaccinated on our arms, but this time, they decided to do it on my forearm, after they had looked and found only "scratches" of scars--not proper scars--from my old vaccinations. Of course, they didn't explain anything to me. Did the lack of scars mean that the previous vaccinations had not "been effective"? They said not a word.

For in those days, all officials of the colonial government behaved like gods. They had been asked to vaccinate us. So they lined us up and cut us up. Case closed.

It was because we suspected that the health authorities were capable of all manners of sleight of hand that many people ran away when the "vaccinators" came into our villages. How did they get their bad reputation? They were apparently out to save our lives. But they were uncommunicative. So the general populace actually believed that they had come to harm us.

We would be there, not affected by any disease, and these people would come. They would go and tell the chief, or a headmaster, that they had been sent to vaccinate everyone. These gentlemen, being part of the incommunicative authoritarian system themselves, would then instruct us to go and get vaccinated. They wouldn't tell us that smallpox or yellow fever or whatever had been found in other villages, and so we needed to be vaccinated. They would just turn us into fair game.

Yet, if they had taken the time to let us know that we were going to be saved from the type of diseases that had wiped out our army at Kwanyako in the "olden days"; or the illness that left some people pock-marked in the face for life, even if they survived the disease. I am sure we would have welcomed them with open arms. As it was, all the "smart" people in our villages tended to run away from vaccination.

Well, I did not run away because to my young mind, if previous vaccinations had not harmed me, there was no reason to suspect that a new one would. And I have the scars on my forearm--created when the vaccination marks went septic--to remind me daily of what you get when you become too trusting. Did they vaccinate me with unsterilised cutters? Did they cut too deep into the flesh? I shall never...

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