Officials at the World Health Organisation have said that they plan to include local chiefs in the fight against polio in areas in northern Nigeria where cases of the crippling disease have increased.
"We have realized that we would have recorded tremendous success if local chiefs had spearheaded the polio campaign from the start because the people listen and trust them", Sani Gwarzo, an official with WHO told AFP.
Gwarzo said the new drive involves training traditional chiefs actively to participate in the polio immunization campaign which started Thursday in Gezawa village, 20 kilometers north of Kano.
"Our previous efforts have not produced the desired results as the rate of polio transmission is on the increase", Gwarzo, who coordinates campaigns in nine polio-endemic northern states, said.
Kano state has been the epicenter of the transmission of the crippling polio virus to other parts of the world for the past five years.
In 2003 the state authorities stopped polio immunization for one year after radical Muslim clerics and some medical doctors said the vaccine was designed to render girls infertile as part of a US-led plot to depopulate Africa.
Although the state resumed its campaign after clinical trials in and outside Nigeria proved the vaccine safe, Kano had already infected other countries in the region that had been considered polio-free.
According to figures released by WHO, Nigeria has recorded 740 new polio cases this year with Kano accounting for 267, compared to 286 cases countrywide in 2007, 57 of them in Kano.
This year alone Nigeria has transmitted the polio virus to five countries in the continent - Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Ethiopia and Ghana - that were considered polio-free.
"Our priority now is not eradication but interruption of polio transmission and we believe involving traditional chiefs will boost public acceptance of polio vaccine and wipe out pockets of resistance", Gwarzo said.