By Ofurum Stephen

The position of the Catholic Church as a principal partner of government in making life worth living for majority of Nigerians, irrespective of their differences cannot be controverted. In several ways, the Church has supported government efforts in the education and health sectors as well as provides social services, particularly in the rural areas, where government’s impact is far cry from people’s grips.

Apart from the evangelization apostolate, her primary mission since coming to the country, the Catholic Church has built schools and tertiary institutions of learning in several parts of the country. These educational institutions of the Church have remained exemplary citadels of learning, helping to shape the spiritual and moral lives of many Nigerians.

The invaluable support of the Church for Government in the health sector remains an indelible hallmark, with establishment of hospitals, healthcare centers and clinics, particularly in the rural areas. What is however encouraging is the recognition and appreciation of this immeasurable contribution of the Church by the Federal and State’s governments of the country.

Talking about the Catholic Church’s contribution to the health sector in the country, one remembers with nostalgia, her role during the time of the most dreaded HIV/AIDS Scourge in the country. The Church was not only a willing and helpful partner of government during this period but also made some of her hospitals and health facilities, centers for treatment of the dreaded disease. In collaboration with her overseas partner agencies, she opened designated HIV/AIDS treatment centers, procured anti-retroviral drugs for treatment of patients; facilitated educational and formation training for health personnel to be able to attend effectively to victims of the dreaded scourge. This concern and involvement of the Church in this critical period led to a collaborative partnership between the Federal Government and other Non-Governmental international agencies in this period of crisis. In fact it will be overstating the obvious to say that churches and other religious organizations that keyed into the counter HIV/AIDS  programme of the country  took a cue from the Catholic Church.

Again, when the meningitis epidemic came rampaging in the country, early this year, the Church’s magnanimity came to play. She went on a “widow’s mite” rescue mission by practically supporting the Federal Government. While every other concerned stakeholders,  (states,  local governments,  other local Non-Governmental Organizations and groups) were brooding over the devastation the new  type of Meningitis , with no vaccine to counter it;  was causing the nation, in spite of her economic recession and other challenges, the Catholic Church reached-out to her overseas partners through her social services agency – Catholic Caritas Foundation of Nigeria (CCFN); on how the vaccine could be procured and made available to Nigerians to save them from this killer disease. It was at a cost that is no peanuts and the Church did not wait for the Federal Government to provide her the required money; but the necessary approval. Thus, in the month of April the Catholic Caritas Foundation of Nigeria (CCFN), imported the multi-million Naira worth of vaccine and many Nigerians living in Abuja benefitted from this humanitarian gesture of the Church. About 2,000 residents of: Durumi, the immediate catchment area of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) and others from Kubwa, Garki and even Suleja, in neighbouring Niger State; and staff of all the agencies of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), domiciled in Abuja, benefitted from the vaccination programme; and were issued with certificates. As the news filtered to different parts of the capital city, people trouped into the complex of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria to take advantage of this free vaccination service of the Catholic Church. It was a service without borders as there was no discrimination about tribe, sex or religion; neither were those vaccinated made to pay for the vaccine given.

One of the beneficiaries of the vaccination programme, Miss Mary Chukwudubem, who came with members of her family stated that she heard the news of the ongoing vaccination from someone who came to her office, so she decided to take advantage of the opportunity, instead of going to queue in government hospitals for days, before one is vaccinated or told that the vaccine has finished. “Prevention is better than cure, and the Catholic Church has done very well to compliment the efforts of government in this respect”, she added.

Mr Ruben Adah, another beneficiary who also came with his family advised that people should use the opportunity to get vaccinated rather than taking things for granted, and the Church is not charging any payment for this humanitarian life saving exercise. Prevention is always better than cure, he also added. These two people echoed the joy and feelings of the people; including Muslims, who benefitted from this gesture of the Church.

Dr John Okoh, who is the project director of Caritas Nigeria, explained that the vaccination was in response to the outbreak of meningitis in some part of northern Nigeria and considering that Abuja is central and people move around a lot to different neighboring   states, the organization felt as part of her social responsibility and mandate to vaccinate the staff and their family members to prevent the disease from their families. The vaccination also was extended to staff of the agencies of the Catholic Secretariat of the Bishops Conference of Nigeria and to as many people as possible.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the protective membrane covering the brain and the spinal cord known as the meningitis.  Meningitis is infectious which means that it can be transmitted from one person to another if one is not vaccinated.

 Some of the major symptoms include headache, fever, neck stiffness, strong aversion for sight. Etc. The symptoms can come very quickly and can kill within 24 hours.

The vaccination exercise lasted two days.



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