Catholics protest over polio vaccine

Tuesday July 28 2015

ELIZABETH MERAB
By ELIZABETH MERAB
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The Catholic Church on Tuesday demanded to be involved in the testing of a polio vaccine to be used in a national campaign, paving the way for a confrontation with the Health ministry.

The vaccination drive is set to start in two days.

Catholic bishops told a press conference in Westlands, Nairobi, that the testing of the vaccine should be carried out before, during and after the campaign.

In their statement, the clerics asked the ministry to postpone the polio vaccination campaign until “we can assure Kenyans of their safety”.

INFERTILITY IN WOMEN

This is the second time in a year that the church has taken the government head-on over vaccination campaigns.

In January, the church differed with the ministry over the tetanus jab on claims that it was laced with a hormone said to cause infertility in women.

According to Archbishop of Nairobi Cardinal John Njue, the church’s recommendations, drafted in conjunction with the ministry, had not been adopted.

“The church adopted a recommendation by a joint committee of experts on the tetanus vaccine that all mass vaccination campaigns be carried out after thorough sampling and testing,” said the Rev Philip Anyolo, the chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In response, Health Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said the ministry would not abdicate its duty to individual groups as health matters were sensitive.

“We have different religions with different doctrines. If we allow health to be managed based on people’s beliefs, we will have major problems in this country,” said Mr Macharia.

He added that the ministry’s objective is to ensure Kenya is polio-free.

“We are not about to back down on campaigns because of one religion. The bigger picture is the children who are at risk,” said the minister.

The church leaders have accused the ministry of not releasing the report on the test it conducted on the polio vaccine.

“If they have tested the vaccine, they should release the report and not hide it. Otherwise they should not go ahead with the campaign,” said Dr Stephen Karanja, the chairman of the Kenya Catholic Doctors Association.

“We must determine our own destiny and not just take in everything that has been decided by other nations. We just want an assurance that the vaccines are safe,” said Cardinal Njue.

Polio is an infectious disease caused by a virus that lives in the throat and intestinal tract. It is often spread through contact with the stool of an infected person.

It can also be spread through oral or nasal secretions.

The disease mainly affects children under the age of five.