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Fresh medical tests set to clear up controversy on tetanus vaccine

By Ally Jamah | Updated Wed, November 12th 2014 at 00:00 GMT +3

Parliament has ordered independent tests on the controversial tetanus vaccine after the Government and the Catholic Church gave conflicting verdicts on the drug being administered to women.

Fresh laboratory tests are expected to either clear the Government on its stand that the drug is not laced with birth control substances that could even sterilise women, or vindicate the Catholic Church, which is of the view that this is indeed the case.

Yesterday, the Parliamentary Committee on Health ruled that a joint team of experts from the Ministry of Health, Catholic Church and other stakeholders would conduct a fresh round of independent medical tests to end the controversy on the safety of the vaccines.

Meanwhile, attention shifts to the fate of millions who have already been given the vaccine in the three rounds of vaccinations that began in October last year.

The second round was done in March this year while the latest round was concluded last month.

"We are at loss about who to believe since both sides have tabled conflicting results. That is why we need new tests conducted jointly for us to give final and conclusive results," explained the vice chairman of the committee, Robert Pukose

"Those found to have been misleading Kenyans, whether it is the experts advising the Catholic Church or the Ministry of Health, will be held individually accountable. Playing with the safety and health of Kenyans is a criminal matter," he added.

Yesterday, the Church tabled laboratory results from medical labs citing them as evidence that the vaccines were indeed contaminated.

But the committee members were left at a loss because in previous sessions, the Ministry of Health had tabled results from the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri), which showed no traces of contamination.

Chairman of the Catholic Health Commission of Kenya, Rt Rev Paul Kariuki Njiru, explained they were ready for joint testing of the samples to get to the bottom of the matter.

He claimed the Ministry of Health had repeatedly turned down the Church's request for the vaccines to be tested for contamination before being administered to women.

"We maintain that adequate and clear information is provided to the general public to avoid misinformation and propaganda with regard to the vaccine. We are shocked at how casually this serious issue is being handled," he added.

 PUBLIC AWARENESS

Chairman of the Catholic Doctors Association Stephen Karanja expressed dismay at the lack of consultation by the Ministry of Health with stakeholders before the vaccination campaigns were rolled out as well as what he called the secrecy with which the campaign was being carried out, with little public awareness.

"It is clear that the ministry, for reasons best known to its staff, does not want to submit the vaccines for independent testing and this worrying," he claimed.

Acting Director of Nairobi Hospital Lab Andrew Gachii, whose results were among those cited by the Catholic Church as evidence, said he would investigate the matter further.

Dr Gachii said the samples were submitted as human samples and not vaccines, causing them to use the normal procedures of testing when other procedures may have been more appropriate.

"I cannot comment on the specific results but I have to know how the samples were submitted, the methodology of testing and how that impacts on the results. The results must also be interpreted by experts," explained the forensic pathologist.

"The samples were submitted to us but we don't know who had handled them before, how they were stored and if they may have been contaminated," he added.

Yesterday, the Confederation of Kenya Consumers (Cofek) rooted for joint tests and a non-partisan clarification on the controversy.

Cofek Programme Officer David Kedode said, "Any form of forced sterilisation of women and even men at any point is unlawful, immoral and must be condemned. Article 46(1)(b) of the Constitution gives consumers of medical services the mandatory right to information necessary for them to gain full benefits from the said services."