Monday, 14 September 2015

Sickle Cell Anemia Patients Increases Because People Marry for Infatuation rather than love—Auxiliary Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese

Jonas Benson

As Sickle Cell Anemia patients were recently celebrated by the people of Anambra State and its environs, our publisher, Okechukwu Onuegbu met with the Most Reverend Jonas Benson Okoye who is the Auxiliary Bishop of Awka Catholic Diocese in an exclusive thought provoking interview geared towards eliciting ideas on possible ways of putting an end to the inhumane gene. Enjoy the excerpts:

How would you react to proliferation of sickle cell anemia despite the fact that we are in the information age?

What you said is true, and I must tell you that is of great concerned to me as a person. I was ordained a catholic priest in 1992 and ever since I have been working in the ecclesiastical tribunal. The challenges we meet with people who want to get married is that they get infatuated with each other and they forget to take care of the medical essentials like the blood group, genotype. When we insist on that, they often insist that the basic thing is that they love each other. But that is infatuation, not actually love because if you fail to consider what your generation could be, then there is a problem. It is a real concern for me too as a person and a catholic priest.

As ways of supporting this moral crusade, how would you advise the church to partner the education sector—primary to tertiary institution level?

Since Aisha and her group begun this campaign and Her Excellency, Wife of Anambra State Governor keyed into it, I think the awareness should begin at the secondary school level where people begin to understand better. I don’t think there should be any restraint from the church to ensure these things are passed around.

There was a law passed since 2002 mandating every child in the school to have a certificate of screening of genotype as a prerequisite for admission into school. To our amazement, people have not been implementing this. This is going to help increase the consciousness of the dangers of irregular carrier marriage and incompatible matches among couples in the society. What would your opinion be to ensure that this law is implemented?

Apart from the compatibility reason, for health reasons too; one needs to know one’s blood type, genotype, also when sickness occurs, for first aid administration in the schools. So it is good we have a file where all these things are recorded. Not just about getting ready for the future. Because, even at the point of getting married, the church insists that people get their medical status from our designated hospitals. So, since the law has been passed, given that at the grass root level, I’m not sure people have been taking the screening seriously, I’m sure we will look into it. 

Recently, when a CWO leader was interviewed, she disclosed that some intending couples go to the extent of forging lab results on discovering they are not compatible, just to scale through the church’s screening for marriage. How do you react to this?

That is why I mentioned that those who intend to marry in our church usually pass through marriage instruction during which medical personnel talk to them about sanitation in the married life, child bearing, and also catholic priests talk to them about impediments – things that could prevent a marriage from happening. So we take care of all those things. However, what the woman said is correct, there are some hospitals who try to falsify results of tests taken and that is quite sad. I have seen that. There have been cases of annulled marriages on those grounds of deceit. Somebody would want to marry somebody and because he or she sees that his or her blood type might affect the marriage, they doctor their medical result. That is pure deceit, even in cannon law. I studied cannon law and it says that once you discover that in marriage, that the marriage is no marriage at all. It is said also that you find couples who are both AS and you explain to them that their bearing children in future will be a dangerous venture, but they are infatuated and don’t listen to you. You tell them that that when this problem comes, it is going to deplete your economy, you are going to be unhappy and you are going to present to the society somebody who is trouble, who may not be happy with him or herself in future, why would you want to do this senseless thing? They will keep telling you that miracle will happen. But we explain to them that the first miracle is scientific discovery. What other miracle? Why challenge God in this? So it is about intending couples. And as you said also, ‘education, education, education.’ You can’t do this without education.

What do you think the government and the society need to do about the welfare of those living with sickle cell? Their welfare seems to be neglected.

In the first place, I don’t think there is any need for discrimination among them. It is not an infectious disease. It is something somebody has unfortunately come to live with. It is a moment when we need to show concern as humans. That is why I must extol the courage of Her Excellency, Mrs Ebelechukwu Obiano, for undertaking this, because when people are in trouble, when people are sick, that is when God challenges us to know the amount of concern you show to those who are sick or in trouble. Everybody; the teachers, the government, every member of the society and the law must tilt toward them with sympathy and care.

Those living with sickle cell disorder recently raised an outcry that those who are supposed to care for them; who float all manner of NGOs in the name of sickle cell especially one known as Sickle Cell Foundation recently raised the sum of 800 million naira during the World Sickle Cell day and yet these people don’t have annex in other states and have not made impact in their lives. These people use them to make money and the government is allowing them thrive.  Yet many sickle cell graduates do not have jobs. Out of frustration, a good number of them are drug addicts.

I must say that a good number of NGOs all over the world not just with the Sickle Cell people. You see them all over the streets of Washington, designing fliers as if they care for the downtrodden. But they are just making money, stealing in the name of those who are suffering, even in the name of God. It is also unfortunate what our government atimes do. They know how to channel this fund and it will get to people who need them. Each point in time I must extol the effort of Governor, Peter Obi. He gave money to some government parastatals to revamp our institution of learning. When he discovered the money had been siphoned, he gave it to the church and look at the difference. If the government is sincere, they know where to keep the money for people living Sickle Cell Disorder. I know if they go through the church, the Catholic Church, where we have discipline, where we can control the clergy and can ensure that the money actually gets to where it is going. But unfortunately, people get together, acquire certificate as an NGO and start making money in the name of the downtrodden, which money they use to travel overseas spending it however way they like. What you said is true. It is unfortunate but the government can use church for such welfare. If the government says today, ‘I have given 20 million naira to the church for sickle cell, the bishop would show the list of those who are suffering and we know we can get to them even down to the remotest area where they come from, because it is we who live at the grassroot. Those who float NGO, where do they stay? They float it at Abuja and cities. But we are the ones who stay at the grassroot. The church is all over the place. The government has the opportunity and we are ready to help, to partner with the government and even the wealthy people in the society to do that.

What else would you tell Governor Obiano’s wife and the society generally?

I want to thank Her Excellency, Chief Mrs Ebelechukwu Obiano for taking out time to begin this crusade. It is a good thing to do and I want to see the result delivered. Anambra people are blessed with very wealthy people who would also want to partner with her. The fact that she is the wife of the governor of Anambra state does not mean she has all the wealth to dispense. But I know captains of industries, business people should be able to key into this cause and donate generously towards it. Through her, we can partner with the church. Sickle Cell patients should be able to ask themselves what God wants them to do with their lives.
Association of People Living with Sickle Cell Disorder has said they don’t want any NGOs except the church. What do you have to say about this?
We certainly stand by them. Whatever comes to the church for them must certainly get to them and even much more because I tell you this office received much more people who are living in abject poverty and one want or the other I receive them more here and attend to them.



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