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Caritas Pakistan launches Covid-19 awareness campaign

Church explores challenges of food access and stigma faced by religious minorities

Caritas Pakistan launches Covid-19 awareness campaign

Mukhtar Gill, program coordinator of Caritas Pakistan Hyderabad (left), conducts an online nutrition survey in village areas of Tando Allah Yar parish, Sindh province, on July 13. (Photo: Caritas Pakistan)

A church group in Pakistan has launched an awareness program to help fight the Covid-19 pandemic after a study found that most villagers in the country do not use any disinfectant. 

Caritas Pakistan, the Catholic Church's social arm in the country, launched the program to make people aware of sanitization in the fight against the pandemic.

The program named "Together we can stop coronavirus" runs until Sept. 30 in all seven dioceses, Caritas officials said.

It focuses on developing material to educate and communicate on prevention activities, campaign through local radio stations and train field staff and volunteers in prevention methods.

It also plans awareness creation through loudspeakers in villages and creating and sharing video documentaries through social media.

The effort began after a Caritas study revealed poor sanitation among villagers. Most people — 89 percent — do not use any disinfectant, according to a survey it conducted in 60 villages of 22 districts. The baseline survey included 197 households.

It showed that 71 percent use non-treated water and 76 percent are vulnerable to open sewerage systems. Almost half — 49 percent — do not use a mask while going out of their houses.

The state welfare department has distributed some relief material in these 60 villages. But there was no distribution of soaps, hand sanitizers, disinfectants or any other related sanitization material.

Caritas has already deployed field workers also to conduct door-to-door nutrition surveys amid coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

"Our objective is to assess food intake and nutritional deficiencies of poor families, mostly in women and children, since the government imposed lockdown three months ago," said Amjad Gulzar, executive director of Caritas Pakistan.
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Gulzar told UCA News that the information will help us "in developing projects and response plan for restoration of their livelihood."

The survey that started in early July in all seven diocesan units in Pakistan will be based on interviews with 175 pregnant and lactating mothers living in urban slums and villages. 

The stigma

Human rights groups say that Hindus and Christian minorities are not being given state food supplies in the Islamic country.

Charity group Saylani Welfari has faced accusations that non-Muslim families are excluded from its door-to door-distributions. In April, more than 100 Christian families from Punjab's Kasur district were reportedly excluded from food aid distributed by a village committee comprising Muslims. In another incident, Christians were denied food on April 2 in a village near Lahore.

The same month, the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) and Minority Rights Group International launched an online Stigma Survey in Pakistan.

"The reports will be presented to decision makers in Pakistan to aid larger efforts to address the root causes of stigma," the NCJP said on its Facebook page.

The health crisis due to the pandemic further "threatens to increase stigma and discrimination against marginalized and underprivileged communities," it said. 

Rising inflation has further increased challenges for middle-class non-Muslims in Pakistan.

According to the latest data on the Consumer Price Index, Pakistan's inflation rate soared to 8.6 percent year on year last month. The Institute of Development Economics estimates that a prolonged lockdown will mean short-term unemployment for as many as 20 million people.

Meanwhile, Federal Minister for Planning Asad Umar, who also heads the anti-coronavirus campaign, claimed a 28 percent reduction in the number of patients who require ventilators and oxygen cylinders.

However, health experts warned it is too early to declare victory against the virus that has already infected 265,083 people across Pakistan with 5,599 deaths.

Last month church workers shared Facebook posts claiming that Father Samran Anwar, the young parish priest of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Gujranwala, Punjab province, died of Covid-19. Lahore Archdiocese denied the news, claiming that the priest died of cancer.

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