News: Health and Gender

Stephen (far right) and the staff of CAMH
Stephen: The newly opened Cardinal Adams Memorial Hospital (CAMH) has been off to a slow start. Due mainly to the sluggish flow of funds, the acquisition of needed equipment and drugs has been held up. Plans for the building of wards are on the drawing board, but I cannot say when construction will commence. For the time being, we function more as an outpatients department. Already, I have seen the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Zambia. Last week, a middle-aged couple I saw were both diagnosed as HIV positive, and the husband has AIDS. Fortunately, effective anti-retroviral therapy is supplied free by the Ministry of Health, meaning a more upbeat outlook than was the case only a few years ago. I am on a steep learning curve, as I learn more about the prevalent mainly tropical conditions, and learn to speak a smattering of Nyanja, the local language.

Due to the slow start at CAMH, and in order to become accustomed to the Zambian health system, I have had two stints at a regional Catholic “mission” hospital about 100km outside Lusaka. There, I have participated in the busy ward rounds, and helped in theatre and the labour ward. I have been confronted by the challenges of under-resourced health care, and the poverty of the local populace. Malaria, malnutrition, TB, HIV/AIDS, trauma, and a high birth rate contribute to the hospital’s considerable workload.

Catherine and Emma in the Lusaka Gender office
Emma: I am slowly finding my way in the Catholic Church Gender programme. The goal of the next three years is to increase women’s participation in governance issues and structures, in the Catholic Church, and in the community more broadly. Current projects focus on literacy, awareness raising (including through community radio stations) and leadership skills for women, building on work already done around gender injustice and gender based violence. I am learning that Zambian tradition and culture play a role in the subjugation of women and of course changes in these areas are very slow. Rates of violence and sexual assault of women and girls are very high, and widely reported to be increasing.

I have been asked to take on a coordination role, working closely with my Zambian colleague Catherine in the office here in Lusaka, as well as with Pastoral coordinators and Gender committees around Zambia where the programme is being implemented.

The biggest challenge for me so far has been feeling like I never have all the ‘pieces of the jigsaw puzzle’ when it comes to understanding what is really going on! Overall though, it is very heartening to see the mainstream churches recognising that women have also been oppressed within church structures and seeking to have a prophetic voice around these issues as well as working on a very practical level to improve women’s lives. And I am really looking forward to getting out of Lusaka when we do monitoring field trips during the course of the year.

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As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills. - Pope Francis (Joy of the Gospel 202)