Why Are Catholic Bishops Boycotting Polio Vaccines in Kenya?

International health organizations reacted in shock last week after the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Kenya announced a boycott of polio vaccines. This comes on the heels of Africaís first year without a single polio case. The bishops have said they want to carry out more independent testing on the vaccines to make sure they donít contain estrogen derivatives, which they claim are being used to sterilize women and children.

Itís a claim that sounds like science fiction, but this issue has been brewing for some time. It started last year when a tetanus vaccination was accused of sterilizing around 500,000 women in Kenya. The Catholic Doctors Association claims that they picked six random samples of the tetanus vaccine from around Kenya and sent it to South Africa for independent testing. They said that when results came back,†30 percent of the vials contained an anti-pregnancy additive.

Doctors with the WHO and UNICEF†came out insisting the vaccine was safe and government officials backed them up, with the Minister of Health famously saying heíd encourage his own daughter to take the vaccination. Yet for many Kenyans a routine vaccination suddenly looked like a harrowing choice.

There is a mass distrust of vaccinations and western medicine both in Kenya and around different parts of Africa. Unlike U.S. fears about vaccinations (which have all been thoroughly debunked) a sheer mass of unethical medical trials across the African continent have only stoked these flames of fear.

Many on the continent feel that the long history of unethical medical trials and forced sterilizations points to proof of continued conspiracies. Forced sterilization and contraception programs existed in pre-Zimbabwe Rhodesia, Namibia and South Africa. And in case you think this was likely all during the colonial era, itís worth noting that up until 1989 chemical castration and forced sexual reassignment was taking place in South Africa.

And these unethical†issues remain until the present day. In 2004 and 2005, women in Cameroon were infected with HIV during a study on an anti-transmission medication. In 2003, a Ugandan trial for nevirapine, designed to reduce HIV transmission from mother to child, failed to report 14 deaths. And a mid-90s study on an anti-meningitis medication in Nigeria was administered without parental consent and resulted in nerve damage, brain damage and death for a number of children.

This is why when Ebola came to light, and western medical institutions started arriving,†many West Africans were suspicious. Many in the U.S. criticized this backlash as silly Africans not understanding what was best for them. Yet what many in the West failed to grasp was the long history of abuse Africans have dealt with at the hands of the scientific community.

The drop in deadly diseases across the African continent is truly commendable and due largely in part to these health organizations and grassroots community advocacy. However, these fears come from very real issues that have plagued societies around Africa since the colonial era.

Because of this, international organizations such as the WHO and UNICEF, should not breezily dismiss these possibilities. Rather they should engage with local communities about their issues. Complete transparency in what is contained in the drug, complete transparency in what the parents can expect and informed consent are all imperative for earning back the trust of these long-exploited communities.

Photo Credit: PV2 Andrew W. McGalliard/Wikimedia


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran3 years ago


Allan Richardson
Past Member 3 years ago

Does Pope Francis know about this rebellion against common sense (with no legitimate spiritual purpose) by his bishops? He has a master's (or is it a doctorate?) in chemistry, so he is better qualified than previous Popes to judge these cases. As a non-Catholic who has followed publicly expressed Catholic doctrines for many years (since John XXIII), I seem to remember that, although DELIBERATELY suppressing fertility (e.g. using condoms, taking the "pill" for contraceptive PURPOSES, surgical sterilization FOR THAT PURPOSE, and abortion for other reasons than to save the mother's life -- or as interpreted by some, not even then) is considered a sin, an unintended but unavoidable SIDE EFFECT of infertility, permanent or temporary (such as using a leaky condom to obtain a sperm sample [since all other methods of obtaining one are forbidden by the Church], taking the "pill" to regulate periods or treat severe, health-threatening bleeding or cramps, hysterectomy for cancer or other serious diseases, and generally, abortions to save the mother's life) are reluctantly accepted as "licit" by Catholic doctrine.

Perhaps His Holiness could take these bishops aside and refresh them on this aspect of the catechism, and on the science at the same time?

Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola3 years ago

Thanks so much for sharing

Manuela C.
Manuela C3 years ago

Awful. It's these conspiracy theories that are endangering the public health, not the diseases themselves...

Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell3 years ago

Thank you

Margaret Goodman
Margaret Goodman3 years ago

Many people who distrust vaccines say that, among other things, they distrust anything that Big Phama says.

Well I don't trust what Big Pharma says about their big moneymakers, which are drugs to control chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, and high cholesterol. But because Big Pharma does not make that much money from vaccines I tend to believe in the efficacy of vaccines.

I'm old enough to remember the scourge of polio. I got the vaccine as soon as I could.

Liliana Garcia
Liliana Garcia3 years ago

Majority of NPAFP cases are reported from Bihar and UP, where several immunization rounds are held to reach universal coverage. These are figures the government does not want to admit.” - See more at: http://healthimpactnews.com/2014/the-vaccine-myth-of-polio-free-status-polio-vaccine-caused-53000-paralysis-victims-in-india-last-year/#sthash.YgBF65o6.dpuf
Taken from:

(2) Polio's Last Act by Helen Branswell
The global campaign to eradicate polio began in 1988. Since then, naturally occurring cases worldwide have dropped to, at last count, around 650 in 2011.
Completely eliminating polio requires a change in the current vaccination program because one component in the most widely used vaccine now causes more cases of polio than it prevents.
The World Health Assembly is expected to approve a plan this May that should decrease the number of vaccine-linked cases of polio and may speed up overall eradication efforts.
Yet questions have arisen over the safety of making the change rapidly. If health officials do not manage this transition correctly, polio could continue to cripple children for years to come.
Taken from: www.nature.com/scientificamerican/.../scientificamerican0412-60.html

Liliana Garcia
Liliana Garcia3 years ago

Here are a few excerpts about the issue of the polio vaccine in India.
Again Mona, thanks for this eye opener.
(1) India’s dramatic turnout in polio eradication, though, has seen a consistent sidelining of the increasing incidence of non-polio acute flaccid paralysis (NPAFP) cases. In the last 13 months, India has reported at least 53,000 cases of NPAFP. - See more at: http://healthimpactnews.com/2014/the-vaccine-myth-of-polio-free-status-polio-vaccine-caused-53000-paralysis-victims-in-india-last-year/#sthash.GVBkPtkI.dpuf

Two doctors from Delhi’s St. Stephens Hospital, Neetu Vashisht and Jacob Puliyel, who compiled data from the national polio surveillance project, found a link between the increase in dosage of polio vaccination and the increasing cases of NPAFP. “Most experts will tell you the cases of NPAFP have increased because of better surveillance. This is bunkum,” said Puliyel. “As per global benchmarks, as polio incidence comes down, the rate of NPAFP should also reduce. Instead, AFP cases have been increasing steadily.” “In 2010, the government reduced the number of pulse polio doses from 10 to 6. What we found was that between 2010-2013, the number of APF cases also came down. Our paper argues that other kinds of polio are being caused by the excessive administration of polio dosages,” Puliyel said. “Another proof is that states like Kerala and Goa, where dosages were less, AFP cases was also less. Majority of NPAF

Ann W.
Ann W3 years ago

Debbie W - I had polio as a 7 year old child and spent 5 months in hospital during a horrendous epidemic in Australia in 1951 - which was before the vaccine was discovered, Mona E.
It angers me when people refuse to immunise as eventually this insidious virus will re-emerge because people have become so arrogantly complacent. Polio has a nasty habit of creeping up again in later life. I am finding further loss of muscle strength in my affected leg and I am constantly tired. Most of the people I know who were affected are in wheelchairs. And as for the sterilisation supposedly in the vaccine, I think it should be compulsory, world wide, after two children. We need to decrease the pressure on the earth and its diminishing resources.