Warning: There is a distressing image in this article of a newborn with tetanus.
The Roman Catholic Church is responsible for the agony and death of millions of those infected with HIV/AIDS in Africa because they forbade their adherents from using condoms. As is so often the case with religion, women and children suffered disproportionately. Now they have found a new way to kill women and children, and the reasoning behind it lies in a bizarre conspiracy theory, which seems to be gathering momentum. There are even otherwise reliable sites supporting the idea.
Kenya is one of 28 countries around the world where tetanus is still a major issue. Their government has a plan, developed in conjunction with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations, to wipe it out by 2015. They have been making progress, but Maternal and Neo-natal Tetanus (MNT) is proving particularly difficult to combat in rural areas as women so often give birth in unhygienic circumstances. The Kenyan Ministry of Health says five hundred babies have died of tetanus in the last year.
According to WHO, MNT is responsible for 110,000 deaths across Africa annually. It’s caused by toxins released by Clostridium tetani bacteria which enter the body via broken skin. In newborns, more often than not that’s through a freshly cut umbilical cord in unhygienic conditions. There is no cure and in most cases the baby will die in agony within seven days. MNT is completely preventable via vaccination.
Therefore the Kenyan government has developed a campaign to target women aged 14-49 years, particularly focused on the rural areas where the disease is most common. The vaccinations themselves are being provided by WHO. The Assistant Director of Kenyan Medical Services, Collins Tabu, stated on BBC World’s Focus on Africa that the same vaccine had been used since program’s inception 5 years ago. The Roman Catholic Church though is opposing this. They insist the vaccine is actually a plot to sterilize women, and is telling women not to have the vaccine. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the Church runs many health clinics in Kenya, especially in rural and poor areas, where the disease is most prevalent.
The Church says they have obtained some of the vaccine and had it tested. They say these tests confirm the vaccine is laced with beta-HCG. HCG is a pregnancy hormone and if it was in fact included in the vaccine it would cause vaccinated women to be effectively sterile. UNICEF and WHO have rejected the claims in a joint statement. In regard to the tests, they state they are invalid as there is no confirmation of what was actually tested and the hospital laboratories that carried out the tests are not equipped to analyze vaccines. Although it’s not specifically stated, my assumption from the wording of the WHO/UNICEF statement is that what was tested is a blood sample from someone who has been vaccinated, not the vaccine itself.
A UNICEF doctor in Kenya and specialist in child health, Peter Okoth, stated on Focus on Africa that the UN and government are prepared to cooperate with the Church to have the vaccines analyzed in a suitably equipped laboratory. “Let’s work together to address this very serious issue of neo-natal tetanus… We want to reassure the public or health professionals that evidence is available, that [the] tetanus vaccine is safe,” he said. Dr Okoth has said many times that the vaccine is safe, including for pregnant women. It seems to me the situation might have evolved because of the Ministry’s initial refusal to have the vaccine tested. I suspect they thought it was a stupid request, but perhaps if they had humoured the Catholic Doctors’ Association, this all may have been avoided.
The Kenyan Catholic Doctors’ Association seems to have gone past the point of no return though. Focus on Africa’s Sophie Ikneye interviewed their Chair Dr Stephen Karanja on 12 November:
Ikneye: What is wrong with the vaccine doctor?
Karanja: The vaccine that is being given is both undesirable and unnecessary and is linked with beta-HCG hormones that affects women in the long term. That is what is wrong with it.
Ikneye: That is what you say is wrong with it. The government says there’s nothing wrong with the vaccine, the United Nations says there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the vaccine. What’s your proof?
Karanja: I don’t need one. That is the wrong question of asking: “What is the proof?” The United Nations has no business ever talking about fertility-regulating vaccines which itself it has developed, funded and in fact owned from 1972. When they talk about safety of a compound they produced to injure women, they have no right to do that. Number two. Fact. Number one. They used the same vaccine to injure women in three countries outside Africa. That is Mexico, Nicaragua and [the] Philippines. While the head organization has been sending UN cannot deny that.
Ikneye: Let me come in here doctor, because we are discussing this particular vaccine and this has happened in Kenya, and these are very grave allegations that you are making as a charge. You have done your own independent tests. The government is asking why did you not use government laboratories … so that you may prove them wrong, that this vaccine is actually damaging women?
Karanja: The government must for the first time, not government, the Ministry of Health, and staffers in that office, must realize that they cannot lie to people all the time. The Catholic Church went to the Ministry in March this year and requested, indeed pleaded with them, to have the vaccine tested together, the government and the Church, so we can know it is safe for the people and they blatantly refused. Why would they refuse if they have nothing to find, if they have nothing to hide? And after refusing to check them, how did they know it was safe? I think that sometimes when things are serious, everybody must speak the truth.
It has been reported that the Kenya’s Coastal province, which has the highest prevalence of MNT, had a turnout of only 38% during the initial vaccination period. The government’s target was 90%, and it is thought that the misinformation spread by the Church is the reason for the low numbers. It is completely ridiculous that Kenya would want 90% of its women to be sterilized. Almost completely stopping births for at least a generation is not what the Kenyan government, in collusion with UNICEF and WHO, are trying to do. They are trying to improve the health and welfare of their population. I suspect there may be a personality conflict between some members of the Ministry of Health and the Kenyan Catholic Doctors’ Association, but this whole situation is causing babies to die in agony. I wonder how many there have been since this dispute started earlier this year? Once again the Roman Catholic Church’s obsession with enforcing doctrine over the welfare of people is causing real suffering.
I am not sure that we can say “millions” of people died from AIDS because they didn’t use condoms because of the Catholic Church. I doubt very much that those who were sleeping around and being promiscuous cares very much what the Church had to say, otherwise they would have hardly been sleeping around.
Of course, there is no doubt the Church’s stance was responsible for deaths, and even one death is one too many, however, figures are important, and unless there is a peer-reviewed study done which looks at how many people died from AIDS as a result of the “no condom” policy, I do not think we should start talking about “millions”.
That all said, nice article.
Hi AU. Thanks for your comments. There is a peer-reviewed study on this, but I haven’t been able to find it. It’s many years since I read it, and I can’t even remember who did it, but I’m pretty sure it was British. Many people reported they didn’t use condoms because it was sinful and they considered it mitigated the sin of pre- or extra- marital sex that at least they weren’t using condoms. They were also told by the Church not to use them even once they had the disease to prevent them passing it on to others – abstinence for life was expected. At the end of his papacy, and well after the study was completed, Pope Benedict changed that ruling – it was OK if condoms were being used SOLELY for disease prevention. There are also many documented cases of Priests telling parishioners that condoms didn’t work anyway. This idea that condoms don’t prevent pregnancy or disease has also been consciously spread in some fundamentalist Protestant areas of the United States to try to scare teens into abstinence.
Heather, another thought provoking piece from you. The issue you have raised really wrenches my gut. So much ignorance so much negligence.
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Just read this. Holy crap! A fact you missed: human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) couldn’t sterilize anyone! It’s a fertility hormone. It’s used in fertility treatments. It’s also used in a bogus “diet” that is sold to people in the First World countries. It’s not a dangerous chemical. Unlike Tamoxifen which triggers premature menopause. And is a chemical derived from a plant. HCG as you point out is a chemical produced in pregnancy. There’s a readily available test for HCG because it’s the pregnancy test! Is that why they decided to pretend HCG is dangerous, because it’s easy to test for? Was this conscious sabotage of the vaccination campaign?
Since to my knowledge the Catholic Church isn’t opposed to vaccines, although if I found out tomorrow it was I wouldn’t be surprised, this sounds like less a crazy Catholic Church doctrine crime against people, and more like an example of the church expecting it’s people in First World countries to get First World level medical care. But in Third World countries “hey, who the hell cares”. In other words the Catholic Church in Kenya could be stopping this crap from some of their members. And has a moral obligation to do so. And since this post is old hopefully they already have. It also shows that having the big fancy “Western” institution of the Catholic Church in your Third World country doesn’t contribute to fighting backwardness. Even backwardness that isn’t specifically Catholic. Ugh.
Oh and the people inventing this conspiracy and spreading this not just false but idiotically false medical information, should go to jail. For Crimes Against Humanity. Crimes Against Humanity don’t have to be gigantic. And manslaughter. For every baby and mom who dies from tetanus in the vaccination campaign zones.
Thank you Heather, for this ghastly info. :-/
I should follow this up to see what’s happening now. To me it shows the lengths people will go to for dogma, and how it can blind the most intelligent people to reality. The Catholic doctors in Kenya know better, but their religion has taken charge of their minds.
A follow-up would be fantastic! Especially if it turned out that everything had been solved.
I don’t see how Catholicism would make them do THIS. But maybe I’m expecting irrational religious crap to just make too much sense. But the no condoms thing which killed masses of people as we both know was about the Catholic Church’s whole punish people for sex thing. I don’t see a sex connection to tetanus unless it’s because it’s women giving birth. When anesthesiology was first discovered Christian ministers in Britain said oh no you mustn’t use that for women in labor, because: Eve. Or are you thinking their Catholicism is making them embrace this nutty conspiracy theory out of some either mythology of catholic/Christian persecution or they think demons are doing it? Because to me it sounds more like Third World political bullshit. “The first world is going to poison us all”. A conspiracy theory about aids repeated endlessly in Africa. Not that it matters particularly but I don’t see the religion component in this, other than the Catholic Church having too much power and deciding to try to set public policy. They try that where I live too, but the government doesn’t listen.
I’ve been looking into this a bit, but am having difficulty finding any info. The most recent I’ve found so far is November last year, where a US Catholic healthcare group has reassured the Kenya doctors’ association that the tetanus vaccines there are not laced with sterilizing chemicals, but still say more testing has to be done to reassure the doctors. There’s a short article here: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/nov/24/kenya-tetanus-vaccines-void-anti-pregnancy-hormone/
I’ll look again in a few months. This is a programme the Kenyan government, WHO and UNICEF are all committed to, so they will not give up.
Fantastic article Heather. I know some Christians who crap on about vaccines in general and its deeply disturbing especially when it leads to horrible deaths and complete ignorance of the fact that its perhaps largely because of vaccines that we’ve had global collapse (in relative terms) of infant mortality 0-5. Your article motivated me to have a good look around about this particular issue (HCG and association of vaccines with sterilisation. Apparently its been damaging anti tetanus programmes in various countries since the 1990s.
I found a site which convincingly debunks the claims – which you’ve no doubt seen but its an interesting read
correction “its perhaps largely” should be “its Definitely largely because of vaccines that we’ve had a global collapse since WW2 of infant mortality in age range 0-5”
Thanks Somer. It’s a while since I wrote the post, so I can’t remember what I’ve read, but I’ll definitely have a look at this.
I know I’ve just breezed in now – almost 2 years after the writing of the post – but the Kenyan govt, the WHO and UNICEF are continuing undeterred with the programme which is good – however the Catholic Church in Kenya is still against it, which is bad!
831,000 women set for tetanus vaccine, Daily Nation, 16 May 2016
The Director of Matercare International forwarded the article by a Kenyan Gynaecologist you referred to – and they have head office in Canada but based in every English speaking country, plus having many clinics in Africa.