What you need to know:
- I have met women who are worried and angry about the bishops' intervention.
- Others responded to the scare by boycotting the vaccination and in the process may have endangered their health.
Two weeks ago I met a team of Community Health Workers (CHWs) as they launched their door-to-door Neonatal Tetanus Campaign.
Ours was one of 60 districts in 16 counties targeted for the second phase of the exercise. These women explained how Kenya was one of 51 countries globally with high rates of tetanus infection passed between mother and infant at childbirth. In fact Kenya had 555 cases last year; and 110,000 deaths occur annually as a result of tetanus infection in children.
By immunising the mother, the mother passes on immunity to her infant and so we are able to radically reduce infant mortality rates.
Three days later one of the team came dashing into my office in a state of panic. “What are we to do now that Cardinal Njue has said that the vaccine will make us all infertile? Whom do we believe — the Government or the Church?’ she raged.
I was flabbergasted as this was the first I had heard of Cardinal Njue’s concerns. Give me time, I pleaded.
"LACED WITH A HOMORNE"
I quickly discovered that the cardinal had asked why only women were vaccinated; why there was so little collaboration with the churches and such poor awareness about the matter in the country.
But the Health Commission of the Bishops Conference went further and claimed that in similar campaigns in Nicaragua, Mexico and the Philippines, the vaccine was laced with a hormone that left women permanently infertile.
While not directly accusing the Ministry of Health, they stated that they were ‘not certain that the vaccines being used in Kenya are free of this hormone’. Suspicion had been planted.
Cabinet Secretary James Macharia then announced on March 26 that he had met the cardinal and that the issue had been resolved. But four days later the bishops bought space in the Sunday press to repeat their claims and demands. And there the matter ended inconclusively.
The bishops have so far not produced any evidence that the vaccine was a birth control method, but two million women targeted in the exercise deserve an explanation.
I have met women who are worried and angry about the bishops' intervention. Others responded to the scare by boycotting the vaccination and in the process may have endangered their health.
The bishops have a moral duty to produce the evidence or apologise to women and Ministry of Health.
Medical and scientific experts say that there is no way you can sterilise a woman in this manner, and despite experiments 20 years ago, the medical world has so far not developed a birth control vaccine.
It is sad that bishops put most energy into an area that they have least expertise and experience in — sexuality — and say nothing about insecurity, corruption, laptops, access to health services.
Last September Pope Francis said that the church cannot always be obsessed with issues of abortion, sexuality, family planning: “We have to find a new balance otherwise the moral edifice of the church will collapse like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”
Did our bishops read his ‘Joy of the Gospel’?