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Bishop of Embu, Kenya: Health Care, History and Pope Francis

«Pope Francis comes to African soil as the greatest health care worker in the world. He has an army of professional health care workers behind him, working in every major city and in the last outposts of humanity»

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Here is a reflection from Bishop Paul Kariuki of Embu, Kenya on health care, history and Pope Francis. The Holy Father will visit Kenya during his trip to Africa later this month.

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Pope Francis comes to African soil as the greatest health care worker in the world. He has an army of professional health care workers behind him, working in every major city and in the last outposts of humanity. The Catholic Church has changed the history of health care. It is a legacy that goes back centuries. No other organisation shares that history. Today the Catholic Church is responsible for 30% of the hospitals in Kenya.

As part of her social teaching which promotes the dignity of every human being, be they babies in the womb or the elderly, the Church has always been interested in the health of the human body. She has fostered the highest standards of love and care and given witness to the fact that faith and science go together. The body and soul function as one. We cannot attend only to the soul and forget about the body.

Healing must be faith filled. Faith needs to be a major component in the health service. It is a guide and we need that guide. Man is served by faith but not in an abstract way. The goal for everyone with this visit is to deepen our faith. We need a greater faith practice, allowing our faith to percolate into our life, affect our personal choices, so that we make the right professional decisions.

We should let our faith engage more in social choices. Our faith should direct society’s choices according to what builds. Chesterton once said:  “to admire mere choice, is to refuse to choose”

We should lose our fears of taking a Catholic stand. This approach concerns everyone in society from the boda boda (public transport) operators to the legislators and is particularly relevant at present in health care.

We have a wealth of criteria coming from the Church in her documents. We need to know these criteria and know the why of the criteria, deepening in the theological underpinnings. Every Catholic Health Worker should be conversant with Humanae Vitae, Donum Vitae, and other great Church statements.

At the weakest moments of a person’s life a healthcare worker is there. These are moments to ask the deeper questions about life and its meaning. It is a God given moment to open the door of faith. We need to restore the creator’s space in the working of healthcare technology. We need to restore a true direction and faith is a true compass.

We need to confront the new global ethic agenda which is a result of moral relativism and which is targeting Africa at present.

There tends to be no mention of sex with responsibility. The UN proposes every form of abortion as a means to lower maternal mortality. What happens to women’s rights and doctors rights?

In Africa we need a paradigm shift not just for Catholics but for all health care workers. We need to change the culture of death programs and change them for culture of life alternatives.

Maternal mortality is rising in Sub Saharan Africa. We need to promote the scientific truth from the obstetrical community that this can only be solved by dealing with one mother at a time.

Governments and aid agencies have focused their attention on HIV Aids, they have forgotten women and mothers, this is reflected in their budgets. Only 7.9% of the UN budget is allocated to maternal and child health, which is where the people are dying.

Contraception and abortion are counter cultural to African values and have been proven to be ineffective in lowering maternal mortality.

Marriage, fertility and motherhood in Africa is a status symbol. It is a family based culture. Motherhood is celebrated. Infertility is an abomination. To put in place strategies that will make you infertile is not African.

The approach of some is to eliminate motherhood, not to eliminate maternal mortality.

The Hippocratic Oath has been edited so much it is now meaningless. There is a lot of violence done against women and children, often through a lack of communication of truth in relation to the side effects of contraceptives and abortion. One of the first rights of women is the right to know the truth.

We need a Marshall plan to help mothers and so do something about the most neglected of the millennium goals. It will take 275 years to reach the millennium goal of a reduction in maternal mortality if we keep going at the present rate, because mothers don’t matter to governments and international aid organisations.

Women’s groups talk of women, women, women, but say nothing of mothers, mothers, mothers. We need to restore the dignity of mothers.

Much has been achieved but much remains to be done. Every woman in the furthest village should have access to quality health and obstetric care, not the safe murder of her baby. In the latter system someone always dies which neither safe nor healthy.

When the missionaries came they brought with them education and health care. Hospitals spang up, many with a maternity wing. Christanity communicates a sacred character to maternity. We need to have a preferential option for mothers. With the maternity wings came neonatal units. The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.

All mothers share a special dignity because God has asked them to carry a child in their womb. To ignore human dignity is to ignore human rights. Mothers have the key to the first human right : life.

Obstetricians have a special role because they look after the co-creators of human life.

330,000 mothers die each year mainly in sub Saharan Africa. The big difference between the developed and under developed world is in obstetrical risk.

We need more respect for conscientious objection by doctors, nurses and medical and nursing students. No one should be forced to do anything against their conscience.

Ghandi once encouraged people “to be the change you desire to see”. We need to get our hospitals and health centres to work better.  It is not enough to break even. They have to make money in order to ensure their financial stability. This does not imply making exorbitant charges.  It means getting honest and competent professionals to run our institutions. It means installing state of the art systems to curb profligacy. It means taking care of the welfare of our health workers.

The presence of Pope Francis can function as a modern areopagus and help us deliberate on truth that is rationally sustainable. The probability of churning out error is greater than that of churning out truth. He will remind us of the importance of standards to guide legislators in respecting the dignity of the human person.

(Bishop Paul Kariuki is the Chairman of the Catholic Health Commission of Kenya (CHCK)

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