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Kenyan Catholic Clerics Attack Tetanus Shot Program

NEW YORK, Nov 17 2014 (IPS) - (GIN) – Leaders of Kenya’s Catholic Church are attempting to derail a vaccination campaign that would protect 2.5 women from a life-threatening nerve disease.

Calling it a stealth birth control campaign, clerics have been telling parishioners to refuse the shot that would immunize women against tetanus – popularly known as lockjaw. It would also reduce the number of babies who
die of neonatal tetanus.

Some 550 Kenyan babies died of the disease in 2013 and according to UNICEF, 8,000 babies worldwide died of neonatal tetanus in 2010.

Tetanus is a serious bacterial disease that affects the nervous system, leading to painful muscle contractions, particularly of the jaw and neck muscles. Tetanus can interfere with breathing and be life-threatening.

Cases of tetanus are rare in the United States where vaccinations are given widely. The incidence of tetanus is much higher in less developed countries. Around a million cases occur worldwide each year.

Treatment focuses on managing complications until the effects of the tetanus toxin resolve.

But a statement, signed by all 27 Kenyan bishops, attacked the campaign sponsored by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, calling it “a disguised population control program.”

John Cardinal Njue, Archbishop of Nairobi, urged women in the country to keep away from the vaccine. Certain ‘powers’ with a hidden agenda were behind the vaccine campaign, he warned.

According to the religious leaders, the proposed vaccine is laced with Beta-HCG hormone which, they claimed, causes infertility and multiple miscarriages in women.

But a doctor that tested the vaccine said the church had misinterpreted the results in two tests conducted in March and October.

James Elder, UNICEF’s communications officer for East Africa, explained that the aim of the vaccination campaign was to prevent neonatal tetanus in newborns who bear the highest burden of tetanus disease. These children live
in parts of the country with limited access to health facilities – most births occur at home in non-sterile conditions.

“Children born at home are at risk of tetanus through the cut umbilical cord. Their mothers are also at risk of infection with tetanus during childbirth.

“Vaccinating girls and women of child bearing age (15 to 49 years) protects the women even under unhygienic conditions. They pass this protection to the unborn child in the womb.”

The Kenyan clerics’ claims are supported by the Virginia-based Population Research Institute (PRI), which also opposes tetanus shots they describe as “mass sterilization agents that, with the stick of a needle sterilize women
for years, or a lifetime.”

The group also lobbies against family planning funding and succeeded in cutting $34 to $40 million per year for seven years from the U.N. Population Fund.

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