By John Nalianya and John Muchangi | 10 October 2014
THE Catholic Church has opposed a tetanus vaccination campaign scheduled to start next week that targets women between the ages of 19-49 years, claiming it is a secret government plan to sterilise women and control population growth.
The Chairman of the Catholic Health Commission of Kenya, the Rt Rev Paul Kariuki Njiru, and his deputy, the Rt Rev Joseph Mbatia, said the Ministry of Health intends to introduce the campaign in a low-key fashion without a big publicity campaign because they know they are up to no good.
They said the ministry is well-known for running big campaigns against polio and malaria and wondered why the tetanus campaign had not received similar treatment. “We want to know if there is a tetanus crisis in Kenya, and, if so, why has it not been declared?
Why should it target women between the ages of 19-49 years; why has it left out young girls, boys and men if they are all prone to tetanus?
And in the midst of so many life-threatening diseases in Kenya, why has tetanus been prioritised?” the two asked at a press conference at St Patrick’s Pastoral Centre in Kabula, Bungoma County.
They said the government has not convinced them that it has taken adequate responsibility to ensure that Tetanus Toxoid Vaccine (TT) has not been laced with the Beta human chorionic gonadotropin (b-HCG) hormone to prevent pregnancy.
However, the director of Medical Services, Dr Nicholas Muraguri, said these fears were unfounded because the vaccine is the same usually given to expectant mothers during antenatal visits at Catholic-owned facilities across the country. “We have always engaged the Church and we do not expect any problem,” he said.
Head of Vaccine and Immunisation Services Ephantus Maree said the Ministry of Health will meet the church leaders on Monday to explain the importance of the vaccine. “We always approach the Church before vaccination campaigns because they are stakeholders.
But this time they are in Bungoma, but we are meeting them on Monday in Nairobi,” Dr Maree said. He said Kenya is trying to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT), a painful killer disease that killed 58,000 newborns and mothers across the world in 2010 alone, according to the World Health Organisation.
Tetanus is among the most common, lethal consequences of unclean deliveries and umbilical cord care practices, and has a 100 per cent death rate if not treated. Dr Maree said Kenya is among the 28 countries in the world that have not eliminated tetanus since the WHO in 1989 called for its elimination by 1995. “In fact, we are lagging behind. We give the vaccine to women aged 14-49 because they are in the child-bearing age.
We began the campaigns in 2003, then in 2006, 2009 and next week’s will be the final one. We will then call the WHO to come and certify Kenya as tetanus-free,” he said. The Rev Mbatia claimed that the vaccine has previously been used in the Philippines, Nicaragua and Mexico to vaccinate women against future pregnancy, with the Beta HCG subunit acting as a hormone necessary for pregnancy.
“When injected as a vaccine into a non-pregnant woman, the Beta HCG subunit, combined with tetanus toxoid, develops antibodies against Tetatnus and HCG so that if a woman’s egg becomes fertilised, her own natural HCG will be destroyed, rendering her permanently infertile. Tetanus vaccination has been used as a birth control method,” Mbatia insisted.
Dr Maree said it is not true the vaccine can be used for birth control. “This is the same vaccine normally given to mothers during antenatal visits. And it is available in Catholic health facilities. You cannot give family planning to people without their consent. It is against Kenyan law.” Next week’s campaign will target 60 high-risk districts in 16 counties.
They include Baringo, Turkana, Samburu and Marsabit in northern Kenya, where cases of maternal and newborn deaths are extremely high.
The Church wants the government to provide adequate information to the general public to avoid misinformation and propaganda with regard to the vaccine, saying human dignity in life and healthcare should be prioritised.
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