Faith leaders can help fight TB

Locadia Mavhudzi, CNS Correspondent, Zimbabwe
TB has been identified as a major threat to global health security. In this regard it is imperative to take an inclusive approach towards its prevention, treatment, care and support. Research has proved that one's faith really help in fighting against the disease. The Seventh Day Adventist Church wellness programme in the Midlands province in Zimbabwe has gone a long way in promoting care and control of HIV and TB. The high burden of TB and HIV in mining townships across the province has prompted the church to provide a safe haven for care and support amongst the infected population.

In the Seventh Day Adventist local conference, Pastor Charles Ncube, the Director of Health, said that the Midlands province has a total of 23 HIV/ TB support groups where congregants gather and share knowledge and experiences. “As a church, we believe in the love of God whereby this kind of love embraces everyone despite their social class. We work closely with government health officials who, at times, have sourced supplementary needs for the sick, such as food and sanitary wear. We understand that TB patients need to eat a balanced food and it is our duty to help in cases where the sick person cannot afford this”, he said. Pastor Ncube’s church encourages congregants to rely on their hospital medication for healing. "Unlike the apostolic sect and other emerging new prophets, we believe in the role of the hospital as the most safe place that one must go for healing. We have heard of some faith healers who tell people not to take hospital medication, we condemn that strongly”, he said.

A 27 year old TB patient from Lower Gweru, Selina Ndlovu, who is also a member of the Adventist Church, informed that she had become a volunteer to educate her fellow women in her church about TB and how to manage it. “I am a living testimony. Sometime ago, my health had deteriorated a lot and many people, including myself, thought I was going to die. But then the Seventh Day Adventist Church support group visited me and gave me hope. Men and women who had gone through the same situation with me shared their experiences. Now I am on the DOTS (directly observed treatment, short-course) therapy and am recovering well. "Ndlovu highlighted that many men in her community usually end up dying of TB  because they do not go to church where there is a lot of social and moral support. "Usually when men are sick, they do not want to reveal this. Hence they isolate themselves and sometimes throw away their medication", said Ndlovu.

A recent webinar organised by CNS also confirmed that faith has a critical role in the fight against TB. Rev. Nicholas Busani Bhengu, who presides over the Uniting Presbyterian Church in the Caluza community of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa; is 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, said that faith leaders carry a lot of influence and they must use the pulpit to dispel horrific stigma that is attached to TB patients. Rev. Bhengu, who is working with the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung disease (The Union) and the International AIDS Society and other partners, believes in the transformative power of people of faith and said they would mobilise people of faith to end TB.

Jody Boffa, a community-based researcher and epidemiologist at the Desmond Tutu TB Centre, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa, said that culture plays a critical role in a patient's response to TB treatment in Africa. Based on her experiences in the community, Boffa stressed upon the need to deliver TB messages to the faith organizations in their local languages so that information is not distorted in the process. Project Axshya, which the Union is administering in India—a country that accounts for 27% of the world’s 10.4 million new TB cases and 29% of the 1.8 million deaths— is also taking help from various religious organizations to empower communities on TB control. Subrat Mohanty, Coordinator of Project Axshya, said that the project has been highly successful as more than 900 NGOs were working collaboratively to manage and treat TB in India.

One of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to end the global TB epidemic by 2030. However, to meet this deadline, progress in fighting the disease needs to be accelerated and new multi sectoral approaches developed. Faith leaders are trusted voices who often live and work in the poorest communities, bearing the world’s highest burden of TB. They can help reduce stigma and connect people with TB and/or HIV to health services and also counsel them to complete their treatment. However, we should learn to distinguish between faith leaders and faith healers, as the latter are a dangerous lot and must be avoided at all costs.

Locadia Mavhudzi, Citizen News Service - CNS
March 9, 2017