Faith alone cannot cure TB

Alice Sagwidza Tembe, CNS Correspondent, Swaziland
“All my life, I prayed to God and he answered my prayers. I prayed for a job and I got it, I prayed for a husband and he gave me. When we were struggling to have children, I prayed and fasted for two years and now I have three healthy children……even now I will pray that God cures us.” These were the words of Zanele Dlamini (Name changed), a recently widowed 36 year old female from Sidvokodvo, some 60 km from the capital Mbabane in Swaziland. Zanele was diagnosed with multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) in September 2016, she is also HIV positive. Her husband Muzi (Name changed) succumbed to the same ailments in mid-January this year.

According to Rev. Nicholas Busani Bhengu, who presides over the Uniting Presbyterian Church in the Caluza community of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa and is also a member of a community research advisory team for a project on the uptake and effectiveness of isoniazid preventive therapy in a region of high TB-HIV co-infection, faith plays a critical role in the successful treatment of MDR-TB. In the management of chronic ailments, the era of HIV and AIDS exposed the critical need for a holistic approach in the management of disease and successful treatment. It became evident that when faced with chronic ailments, the majority of people tend to seek for answers and try to find solace through their faith and belief in superhuman powers. However, there seem to have risen a wave of opportunistic faith leaders that have initiated and led faith ministries as business entities. This has resulted in distorted faith and misguided belief. Preaching the gospel of prosperity, such faith leaders have led to significant loss of lives by stressing on abandoning modern medicine. This is what led to the demise of Muzi Dlamini and could potentially claim the life of his wife too.

MDR-TB is caused by TB bacteria that are resistant to at least isoniazid and rifampicin, the two most effective TB drugs. According to WHO’s Global TB report 2016, the crisis of MDR-TB detection and treatment continues. In 2015, out of an estimated 580 000 new cases of MDR-TB, only 125 000 (20%) were enrolled fro treatment. The global MDR-TB treatment success rate was 52% in 2013. Drug resistance to standard TB treatment is facilitated by inadequate treatment, non-completion of treatment and person to person transmission. One of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to end the global TB epidemic by 2030. The WHO’s "End TB Strategy", approved by the World Health Assembly in 2014, calls for a 90% reduction in TB deaths and an 80% reduction in the TB incidence rate by 2030, compared with 2015. However, in order to meet this deadline, progress in fighting the disease needs to be accelerated and new approaches developed. The role of faith and communities has been valued in the fight against HIV and is now being looked to as a means to challenge TB. Muzi Dlamini became one such negative statistics, misguided by a dubious faith leader. He abandoned his modern medication for both HIV and MDR-TB, resulting in his death. Sister Phetsile Dube, a nurse leading the Community Health Workers, explained that they are currently pleading with Zanele to resume her medication and agree to be admitted in hospital. The only card left to play with Zanele is that of her young children, who will be double orphaned if she stops fighting for them. This seems to be the question hardest for Zanele to answer- Did God give you these children so that you leave them alone at such tender ages?

It is my hope that reason will prevail, and faith will positively and effectively impact Zanele’s  MDR-TB treatment by giving her the confidence that proper medication will cure her. Faith leaders are clearly a powerful influence in people’s lives when faced with life threatening situations, Jody Boffa, a community-based researcher and epidemiologist at the Desmond Tutu TB Centre, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa and Vanier Doctoral Research Scholar at the Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary in Canada, expressed that contrary to her expectations, people in the community would ask to pray and read from the Bible before they engaged in healthcare discussions. Having a word of prayer at the commencement of a community meeting is a common practice even in Swaziland. Hence faith leaders are a yet to be fully tapped resource to effect messaging for successful treatment of MDR-TB. As they are in touch with the communities and usually easily allowed in homes and let on with family deep concerns and secrets, faith leaders can positively impact the efforts towards stopping TB.

Alice Sagwidza Tembe, Citizen News Service - CNS
March 22, 2017