By G Oguda
The Catholic Church in Kenya have urged faithfuls to boycott a mass polio vaccination campaign, scheduled to begin on August 1st. They raised issues with the safety of the vaccine, saying the manufacturer failed to provide requested information and the government disregarded the their request for tests.
“We are not in conflict with the Ministry of Health, but we have an apostolic and moral duty to ensure Kenyans are getting safe vaccines,â€ said Most. Rev. Philip Anyolo – the man from Tongaren, currently the HomaBay Diocese Bishop and the Chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops.
This move has elicited strong sentiments, mostly by doctors, and has seen Kenyans tear into the credibility of Catholic Bishops in issuing ultimatums on matters they know little about.
Let me tell you something.
Two weeks ago, about 30 children were paralysed after receiving an injection of an anti-malarial drug in various health facilities across Busia County. This was all over the news. Confirming the incident, the Director of Medical Services named the affected health facilities as; Akichelesit dispensary, Moding Health Center, Angurai Health Center and St Mary’s Chelelemuk Mission. He said the children received the injection between December 2014 and June 2015.
Those health facilities up there do not mean anything to an ordinary citizen, until you run a background search and discover that St. Marys Health Mission, in Chelelemuk Location, situated in the Governorâ€™s home turf of Amagoro, is owned, serviced, stocked, and run by the Catholic Church of Kenya.
This is point where the rubber meets the road.
The Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya (PSK) President, Paul Mwaniki, went on record saying that the drug that, administered on the children, may have contained a toxic active ingredient.
You do not have to be a medic to unpack that statement to mean due diligence wasnt done to verify the toxicity of the drug, and safety of vulnerable children exposed to it. Again, and true to type, the health ministry has embarked on firefighting, recommending measures that are lukewarm and meant as short term palliative. The Busia County First Lady even told off haters to stop playing politics and focus on the positive things being done by his husband’s government.
These are the statements that make bodies like the Catholic Church deeply concerned. When a government treats the vulnerable of this society with contempt and as an afterthought, you get the feeling that few people will side with them on this latest vaccine debate.
Does the Catholic Church have the moral authority to lecture Kenyans on health issues?
The 2009 Census put the total number of Catholics in Kenya at 9.01 million, meaning where 4 to 5 Kenyans are gathered there is 1 Roman Catholic among them. Granted, the Bishops are medically lay people, with little, if any, training on biomedical practice. But this intellectual handicap is bridged, even sealed, in a massive way. The Kenyan Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) have special technical advisory teams of competent specialists from every discipline, including medicine. These advisory teams owe their authority from the several Commissions set up within the Church and supervised by the Holy See through the Apostolic Nuncio.
One of the many Commissions is the The Catholic Health Commission of Kenya, established in 1957. This body is the one mandated to run, on behalf of the Catholic Church, close to 30% of all healthcare facilities in Kenya. As at January 2015, the Catholic Church, alone, had an extensive network of health facilities – 448 health units (54 hospitals, 83 health centres and 311 Dispensaries) and more than 46 Community Based Health and Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Programs.
The Catholic Health Commissionâ€™s mandate does not begin from, and stop at, running their health facilities. They have a mountain of tasks in their job description; including, but not limited to; Providing leadership on emerging health challenges, Coordinating the Catholic institutions offering medical training to ensure harmonization of standards, and – most importantly – Advisory body to the KCCB on health issues.
Yes. The Catholic Church has itâ€™s own medical training institutions of higher learning. Many of you donâ€™t know this but the UZIMA University College, in Kisumu, was founded by the Catholic Church with the sole purpose of “specializing in the teaching and research of medical and biomedical courses as a response to the much needed access to quality medical service provision and expertise.â€ They will not tell you this, but Uzima University offers a BSC in Microbiology that trains students intending to work, or already working in, vaccine production units.
Is it ethical for the Catholic Church to call for a stop in the rolling out of questionable vaccines?
As we have seen earlier, the Catholic Church is not run on hearsay and gallery-pandering. This institution has remained rock solid and unwavering on matters of professional ethics. The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), for example, in Philadelphia, established in 1972, conducts research, consultation, publishing and education to promote human dignity in health care and the life sciences, and derives its message directly from the teachings of the Catholic Church.
In February 2013, they authored a position paper titled; â€œConscientious Objections In Healthcareâ€. Quoting from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) part of the wisdom in the write up reads, and I quote; â€œCatholic health care organizations are not permitted to engage in immediate material cooperation in actions that are intrinsically immoral, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide and direct sterilization.â€
It is the emotive issue of direct sterilisation that has brought the Ministry of Health (Kenya) and the KCCB at loggerheads.
You can now throw your jabs.