Smear tactics spread HIV fear

April 12, 2001

Nigerian health authorities destroyed thousands of sanitary towel samples distributed free to students because of false allegations by Muslim fundamentalists that they were contaminated with the HIV virus.

The decision followed a call by the special adviser to the president on women's affairs for an investigation into claims that students at the northeastern University of Maiduguri were experiencing rashes and itching. One possible cause was thought to be the use of Always pads, produced by Procter & Gamble.

Titi Ajanaku wrote to the Nigeria Institute of Pharmaceutical Research and Development alleging that tests conducted by Maiduguri General Hospital "on samples of the pad distributed free to undergraduates of University of Maiduguri by agents of the firm have revealed that the pads are infested with the HIV virus".

The National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration ordered more tests immediately, which proved there was no contamination of any sort and the rashes and itching that some students experienced were from untreated local water, but not before 142,750 sample packs were destroyed.

Pro-Palestinian Muslim fundamentalist groups were accused of deliberately starting a smear campaign against the US-based multinational manufacturer because they believe American companies are funding Israel.

Patrick A. Bovay, West Africa managing director of Procter & Gamble, said:

"Always cannot spread the HIV virus. Nevertheless, we are fully cooperating with the good offices of Nafda to resolve the various concerns.

"Always is sold in over 100 countries around the world, with nearly two decades of safe usage by millions of women. It has passed all regulatory requirements in countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Egypt , Nigeria, the United States and Japan."

Women on campuses across Nigeria greeted the results with relief. Some of the female students went down on their knees and thanked God.

Ndidi Ibeaji, a haematologist at the University of Lagos, said the HIV virus, which causes Aids, could not survive outside human blood for more than 48 hours.

"There is ample evidence to support the fact that, even if the sanitary pads had just been used by an infected person, the medium had to be right for the HIV virus to survive within 48 hours," she said.


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