BURUNDI: Church expands health-care programs

May 21, 2010

A new administration block, isolation ward, and laboratory at the hospital in Matana, and a new staff house and isolation ward at the health center in Nyankanda are signs of the Anglican Church in Burundi's growing involvement with and commitment to health care in the East African country.

"In the year that the Anglican Church in Burundi is celebrating its 75th anniversary it is appropriate to remember that health was one of the priorities of the early pioneers who brought the Gospel to Burundi," according to a May 20 news release from the Anglican province. "Each mission station had its church, school, clinic or hospital -- a witness to God's care for the whole person."

As it continues to expand its health-related programs, the church is seeking to work collaboratively with the government and other agencies, sharing experiences and resources, and looking at ways to enhance facilities and encourage good practice.

Burundi is one of the world's poorest countries largely due to civil wars, corruption, poor access to education, and the effects of HIV/AIDS.

"Countrywide, the challenges are immense in terms of destroyed or poor infrastructures, inadequate financial and material resources, and few well trained and experienced personnel," the church's release said. "The drain of good doctors and other practitioners to other parts of the world leaves the country depleted in terms of adequate health provision. There is a need for the expertise and compassion of Christian doctors and nurses."

Through its integrated health programs, the church is seeking to assist those most at risk and most vulnerable, especially children, orphans, youth, and women, specifically in the areas of malaria and HIV/AIDS prevention.

Malaria continues to be the leading cause of death in Burundi, especially among women and children. Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi of Burundi marked World Malaria Day on April 25 by distributing mosquito nets to returnees who have been repatriated in the commune of Giharo, not far from the border with Tanzania. Ntahoturi explained that in some areas of the country children attacked by malaria are thought to be subjects of witchcraft.

"Having the World Malaria Day raises the awareness not only of those immediately concerned but also the international community," Ntahoturi, according to the release. "Malaria is still the number one killer but it is preventable. That means people need to be aware and responsible."

With help from NetsforLife, the church is engaged in a comprehensive program benefiting all dioceses involving education about malaria and the use of mosquito nets, the distribution of impregnated nets, and the monitoring of their proper use. NetsforLife is a partnership of corporate and faith-based organizations, including Episcopal Relief & Development, committed to malaria prevention in 17 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Episcopal Relief & Development, working in partnership with the Anglican Church of Burundi, has implemented integrated development programs that help communities address their primary challenges -- preventing malaria, supporting people with HIV/AIDS and orphans, and increasing the food supply and income. The program is implemented in all six dioceses of the Anglican church.

"As in many other parts of the world, the challenge of the HIV/AIDS pandemic is very real," the church's release said. "The extent of the problem in Burundi is difficult to assess due to lack of testing and fear of trauma and discrimination."

Training events and workshops have facilitated discussion at community level and helped to increase awareness and knowledge regarding HIV and AIDS (SIDA in French). In association with the Mothers' Union, efforts are being made to address the problem of mother to child transmission. Special support is provided for orphans and for pupils who are HIV positive. Stop SIDA Clubs are being established in some church schools in order to educate pupils about sexual matters and HIV and AIDS. Such clubs provide safe forums for students to ask questions and encourage responsible behavior.

Makamba diocese has been promoting the Universal Chastity Education program, whose team visits parishes targeting the 15-35 age range with a message of abstinence and faithfulness as the best methods of fighting against HIV/AIDS.

Education on health issues is not restricted to the young. Men are being encouraged, in a culture in which they do not normally engage with such issues, to be involved and act responsibly in their families and communities, particularly in the care and respect of women, especially pregnant women.

Students preparing for ordained ministry at Matana Theological Institute have had a short course looking at some of the relevant ethical issues in a theological framework.

"The church is responding to the biblical imperative to support widows and orphans, take care of the vulnerable and those at risk, show compassion for the sick, and support the dying," the release said. "Acknowledging that it cannot work alone, the church is grateful to all those partners who work alongside and enable the transformation of people's lives to become a reality."