Does faith help in fighting TB?

Dr P S Sarma, CNS Correspondent, India
Human beings live in the world of hope–hope for a better tomorrow. This hope depends upon, and is generated from faith- faith in oneself, faith in the fellow beings and, above all, faith in God. Faith is a principle of action and power. Whenever we work for a worthy goal, we exercise faith.All over the world, efforts are being made to combat TB— an infectious disease that kills 2 persons every 3 minutes.

The Government of  India  had  launched  its National TB Control Programme (NTCP) way back in the early 50s, and later revised it in 1992 as the RNTCP (Revised National TB Control Programme). It has also made TB a notifiable  disease. WHO had launched its Stop TB Strategy earlier and now has the End TB Strategy. In this global endeavour to end the scourge of TB, it is worthwhile to consider taking innovative measures with the help of non medical personnel, which can help in early diagnosis and treatment and thereby help in reducing the death rate and stopping the spread of the disease. Religious leaders create a great impact in the minds of people and influence them through their preachings. Spiritual discourses and religious teachings can motivate people and guide them in all aspects of life, including health matters. The message of TB care and control can be effectively given through inspirational  talks/messages by religious heads. There is evidence to demonstrate that sensitization meetings conducted in madrasas have generated knowledge and awareness regarding TB and motivated people to go to a health centre for medical advise/care.

Proper and timely counselling given by the treating  doctor too creates faith in the minds of patients regarding their recovery and wellbeing. At the same time self medication and irregular, irrational treatment by unqualified personnel amounts to breach of faith. This holds good especially in relation to TB since it requires a prolonged continuous treatment for at least 6 months. At a recent webinar organised by CNS (Citizen News Service), many experts shared their views and  concurred that faith can play a major role in fighting TB. Catherine Mwauyakufa, an award winning journalist from Zimbabwe, shared her personal experience of the pivotal role faith can play in caring for the HIV affected communities, but cautioned against having blind faith. “I have personally realised the power of faith while living with HIV. The first battle is having the faith that, yes it is possible to get cured, and then taking on the armour to be a victor by following the doctor’s instructions. Faith and religious leaders too have a great role to play in dealing with diseases like TB and HIV. Traditional leaders are respected in their communities and their word is listened to. Empowering these leaders with correct information and treatment literacy is the starting point to fighting stigma and ensuring treatment compliance. However we have to shun those who dole out anointed charms, amulets and what not, under the false pretext of of healing desperate patients”, said Catherine.

According to Dr Vishnu Murty, a senior private physician of Amalapuram, India, the patient should have faith in the doctor, in the health system and in the medicines provided by the government. Regular and proper counselling helps the patient develop confidence and faith in the doctor and also helps in treatment compliance. There is a strong myth in the community  that medicines provided by the government are of poor quality and hence not effective. But this is not true. Anti TB medicines  dispensed by the public health system are of good  quality and there is no doubt regarding their efficacy. But unless the  patients have faith in the public health system they would not accept them, added Dr Murty. Faith is a gift from God, but we must nurture our faith to keep it strong. It is like a muscle. If exercised, it grows strong; but if left immobile, it becomes weak. So, the right type of faith (and not blind faith), combined with rational thinking, can  definitely help in our fight against TB.

Dr P S Sarma, Citizen News Service - CNS
March 6, 2017