|A recent polio immunisation campaign. A forum which was to introduce the immunisation week was cancelled as dispute raged over the tetanus vaccine. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]|
By GATONYE GATHURA
Kenya: The Ministry of Health may have to engage more with the Catholics over the controversial tetanus vaccine even as it emerges that local scientists have had a long history of tinkering with the disputed component.
Last month, Head of the Catholic Church in Kenya Cardinal John Njue kicked up a storm over the vaccination of pregnant women against tetanus claiming the medicine could have been laced with infertility drugs.
But the ministry has said the differences, with the Catholic Church over the vaccine, have since been ironed out with the third phase of the campaign expected to resume in September.
However, recent events indicate the church’s reaction may have unsettled vaccination programmes.
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For the first time in four years the African Immunisation Week, which ended yesterday, witnessed no single public activity in Kenya.
Initially, United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and the ministry had planned to hold a press conference on April 16 to publicly discuss, among other things a new national immunisation policy, the introduction of a new vaccine against diarrhea and the way forward on tetanus.
The forum would also have been used to introduce the immunisation week to be observed from April 22 to 27 running concurrently with the World Immunisation Week.
“The event will offer insight on recent challenges and public debates about the safety of vaccines,” said a communication from Unicef clearly alluding to the tiff over the tetanus drug.
Two days to the event, Unicef confirmed it would be held at the Stanley Hotel, Nairobi, only for it to be cancelled the next day without an explanation. But sources within the ministry indicated there are still differences between the two sides.
The church is categorical that as a major stakeholder in the health sector, it must be involved in the making of key decisions such as the introduction of new vaccines and launching of immunisation campaigns.
In the case of the tetanus campaign, the Chairman of the Catholic Health Commission Paul Kariuki Njiru said they and the public had not been engaged. “The Catholic Church has not been engaged unlike other public health initiatives where we have been invited to participate as a key stakeholder,” said Rt Rev Njiru.
The church had wanted such an event to be launched publicly where questions can be answered.
Sort out amicably
“The Press event on the African Immunisation Week is still on. This will most likely be held on Wednesday (April 30) but we will confirm this before then,” Ephantus Maree of the Health Ministry told The Standard on Friday.
Dr Maree, head of vaccine services, said the earlier cancellation had nothing to do with the disagreements with the Catholic Church “since these had been sorted out amicably”. He said the event had been put on hold because the three top ministry officials had been out of the country at the time.
“The Cabinet Secretary, the Principal Secretary and the Director of Health were out of the country. Now that they are back the events will be launched and may go into the first week of next month,” said Maree.