Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bishop says Kenyan church needs to do more to fight HIV/AIDS

The Catholic Church has gone to great lengths to help the 1.3 million Kenyans with HIV/AIDS, but more needs to be done, said the chairman of the bishops' Catholic Health Commission.

"We need to learn better ways of rolling out programs even faster to all who need our assistance," said Bishop Philip Sulumeti of Kakamega.

"We need to challenge ourselves to build our capacities to provide ever more excellent services. We need to rededicate ourselves to provide services with ever greater compassion. We have come a long way, but we need to go even further."

The bishop addressed more than 600 Catholic workers involved in fighting HIV/AIDS June 25 at the kickoff of a four-day conference on AIDS. Twenty-six dioceses were represented at the conference, which marked 20 years of the church's involvement in the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The four-day national conference was organized by the Kenya Catholic HIV/AIDS Taskforce, K-CHAT, on behalf of the bishops.Bishop Sulumeti said the needs of Kenya's 1.1 million AIDS orphans get more acute every day, and many people who need antiretroviral therapy are not being reached.

He added that 44 church-run hospitals in the country offer subsidized or free antiretroviral medicine.

"It is true that close to 100 health units, including health centers, offer services in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. It's also true that many orphans find refuge in our children's homes and child survival programs, and it's also true that many youth are given life-affirming abstinence messages ... but all these are far from enough," he said.

Dr. Margaret Ogola, national executive secretary of the Catholic Health Commission, said the church has overcome many challenges to be a major provider of services geared toward helping relieve the suffering associated with HIV/AIDS.

"The two main challenges have been an incorrect perception by the public and a lack of resources. Sometimes, the lack of resources is related to this poor perception," she said.

She noted that despite its efforts to help meet the needs of various groups, the church is often seen to be lacking in political correctness, particularly in the area of AIDS prevention.

The church has emphasized abstinence over the use of condoms in preventing the transmission of HIV.

During the conference, the church planned to officially launch "This We Teach and Do," its policy on AIDS. The health commission already has approved the document.

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