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India's Catholic officials to promote children's health, eye donations
Catholic News Service

BANGALORE, India — Catholic officials said they would promote children's health and eye donations in an effort to promote wellness.

Father Tomi Thomas, director-general of the Catholic Health Association of India, told Catholic News Service the organization's members would encourage children to eat healthy foods and get physical exercise. The association and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India teamed up to launch children's health clubs.

"Today, children lead sedentary lifestyles, play virtual and not real games, eat junk food and (opt for) chemical (soft) drinks," said Salesian Father Joseph Manipadam, executive secretary of the bishops' commission for education and culture. "This leads to serious health hazards."

The commission will involve the 20,000 Catholic schools and more than 600 colleges and other institutions to set up the health clubs, under the auspices of the Catholic Health Association of India.

In late October, the CHAI held its 70th anniversary assembly in Bangalore. More than 800 convention delegates pledged to donate their eyes.

"Your eyes are too precious to be buried or to be burned (in cremation). Kindly donate your eyes (on death) and be ambassadors of sight," the delegates were reminded before the eye donation pledge was read out by K.J. George, the home minister of southern Karnataka state.

"The celebration of 70 years is an occasion to commit itself to the vision of a healthy India. Eye donation advocacy is part of that goal," Father Thomas told CNS.

Founded in 1943, CHAI has more than 3,400 member institutions with more than 1,000 Catholic nuns who are doctors, 25,000 nuns who are nurses and more than 10,000 paramedical professionals.

A CHAI press note said the nongovernmental organization reaches more than 21 million needy a year, with most of its health centers scattered in remote areas.

Father Thomas said the organization also would pay special attention to addressing diseases like hypertension, heart diseases and diabetes -- all of which are increasing -- and would give special attention to care of elderly.

Archbishop of Bernard Moras of Bangalore challenged the church's health care institutions "to uphold church values and principles and ensure that affordable health care is provided to the poor people."

Speakers endorsed CHAI's plan to mobilize support demanding a constitutional amendment to make "right to health" a "fundamental right" under which government will be bound to provide free health care to the needy.

Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is president and CEO of the U.S. Catholic Health Association, who was among a dozen international delegates at the CHAI assembly. She congratulated her Indian colleagues for their decision to take up the "right to health" advocacy.

"You must also be prepared to face taunts and brickbats for standing up for the poor. People will call you all sorts of names and try to put you down. But you must go on. That's our experience in the U.S.," Sister Keehan said.

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