Is Kenya's tetanus vaccine a secret sterilization campaign?
NAIROBI, Kenya—The Catholic Church in Kenya is up in arms about a government campaign to vaccinate women against tetanus, saying it contains a hidden agenda to sterilize women and control population growth.
Dr. Stephen Karanja, the head of the Catholic Doctors Association, claims the World Health Organization used the same kind of vaccine on 10 million women in the Philippines, Nicaragua, and Mexico. In a televised interview, Karanja said the church conducted laboratory tests on the vaccine used in the tetanus campaign in March and found it contained the Beta HCG subunit. “This substance, combined with the tetanus vaccine, actually becomes a vaccine against pregnancy,” he said. The Church claims the vaccine was used in other countries without women’s knowledge or consent. It accuses the Kenyan government of similar plans.
But the Church has not provided the details of the alleged research to the public, only sharing the results with the parliamentary committee on health.
Kenya’s director of medical services, Dr. Nicholas Muraguri, hit back, saying the Catholic Church is involved in a conspiracy theory, adding the vaccine is safe and is always used in many health facilities. He said the Catholic Church has misinterpreted the results of the lab tests done on the vaccine.
“It is high time the Catholic Church got medical advice on this matter of lab medicine,” he said. “On this one, the Catholic Church is clearly wrong.”
Government officials say they had samples of the vaccines provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations tested at Nairobi’s Lancet Laboratories and in South Africa for the birth control hormone and found no evidence of HCG.
Tetanus is among the most common, lethal consequences of unclean deliveries and umbilical cord care practices, and has a 100 percent death rate if not treated. Kenya is said to be among the 28 countries in the world that have not eliminated tetanus after the WHO in 1989 called for its eradication by 1995.
Government officials say they give the vaccine to women between 19 and 49 years old because they are of child-bearing age. They note the campaign, done in partnership with the WHO and UNICEF, is not new. It began in 2003 and this year's effort will be the final one. After all the vaccines have been given out, the government will ask the WHO to come and certify Kenya tetanus-free.
Church officials claim when a woman who is not pregnant gets the vaccine, the Beta HCG subunit, combined with the tetanus toxoid, develops antibodies against tetanus and HCG so that if a woman’s egg becomes fertilized, her own natural HCG will be destroyed, rendering her permanently infertile.
The Catholic Church has been a major player in Kenya’s healthcare system for more than 100 years. It has an extensive network of health facilities that include 58 hospitals, 83 health centers, 311 dispensaries, and 17 medical training institutions. Statistics show more than 47 percent of Kenyans are Catholic.
The debate has drawn in other groups, with a teachers’ union asking the government to respond to the allegations in order to reassure the public. The Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers has urged Kenyan women not to get the tetanus vaccine being offered by the Health Ministry.
But Bill Ryerson, president of Population Media Centre, a group that advocates for population control, dismissed the Church’s claim.
“If tetanus vaccine worked as a contraceptive, the family planning industry would have started promoting it for that purpose years ago,” he told me. “Many women worldwide have had the vaccine and have had babies later. So I think the claims by the priests are both false and very harmful to the effort to control a deadly disease.”
The National Council of Churches of Kenya has asked both the government and the Catholic Church to enter into dialogue to end the matter amicably and avoid continued confusion.
Kenya’s health minister, Dr. James Macharia, has asked the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board to discipline Karanja, the Church’s advisor, saying he is misleading the Church in violation of medical ethics.
The Church’s claims have put the government in an awkward position, with many commentators asking officials to come clean on the issue. Yesterday, the government reluctantly announced it would form a committee to look into the Church’s concerns.
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