The Kenyan Ministry of Health and the Catholic Church have locked horns over an anti-tetanus vaccine drive, funded by the World Health Organisation. Only those women of reproductive age are targeted, but not men and children.
A panel of the Church’s medical experts says the vaccine is laced with a human hormone, HCG (human chorionic gonadotrophine) which can cause a miscarriage. HCG is produced by mothers in the initial stages of pregnancy and is important in maintaining the pregnancy to full term. When injected into a non-pregnant woman, it causes the body to produce anti-bodies, building immunity against the hormone in future. If this woman gets pregnant, her body produces the anti-HCG anti-bodies which will kill her natural HCG, thus terminating the pregnancy.
The response of the ministry is that the objective of the campaign is to protect new-borns from tetanus, as they would get immunity from their mothers who had been vaccinated. The focus is therefore on expectant mothers and women who can become pregnant.
The Church claims that similar tetanus vaccination drives have been used to secretly sterilize women in the Philippines, Mexico and Nicaragua. In 1995 the Kenyan bishops succeeded in stopping a similar campaign.
The chairman of the Catholic Doctors Association, Dr Stephen Karanja, said: “the hormone Beta HCG is neither a product of nor a component required for the manufacture of the tetanus vaccine. It being part of the tetanus vaccine is nothing short of a scheme to forcefully render our women capable of bearing children”.
The two parties have agreed to conduct joint tests at the Kenya Medical Research Institute; the results will be known within a week.
None of the other Christian denominations have uttered a response; all have kept strangely quiet, as well as other faith-based groups. However, a teachers’ union, the Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET), has called for an investigation into concerns raised by the Church. Their secretary-general, Akello Misori, said: “A generation will come when we won’t have children to teach. We will, therefore, end up with no jobs.” He further said he wondered why WHO and UNICEF were not channeling funds towards the fight against Ebola.
The Catholic Church has a big stake in the health sector in the country, with its 58 hospitals, 83 health centres, 311 dispensaries and 18 medical training colleges.
But the real question is: who will the average man and woman in the street believe, regardless of the findings, now that this issue has come into the open: the government or the Church? Going on similar campaigns in the past, my bet is the Church.
Spero columnist Martyn Drakard writes from East Africa, where he has resided for decades.