Using faith to not just fight TB but many other diseases as well

Josephine Chinele, CNS Correspondent, Malawi
Motivational talks could move people and change their behaviour. But the use of their faith authority will move them more. This is what the experts have resorted to in order to fight against TB across the world. Experts who made presentations at a webinar hosted by Citizen News Service (CNS) indicate that faith leaders can play a crucial role in fighting against diseases such as TB.

Award winning journalist from Zimbabwe, Catherine Mwauyakufa, who is living with HIV, says that first an individual has to accept that they have a problem then everything else falls in place. “I‘m a good example.  I accepted my situation and I very much adhere to treatment with the help of my husband. I live in faith,” she says. Mwauyakufa supports the idea that the faith community could play an important role in fighting against TB. “Traditional leaders are respected in the community’s treatment literacy and this could help to fight stigma,” she says. Mwauyakufa notes that there are a few ‘greedy’ faith leaders that are misleading the communities as they are claiming to heal the people without taking medicines approved by doctors. The situation is not different from what is happening in Malawi, not only for TB but other terminal diseases as well. For instance, 2 years ago the Malawi Ministry of Health said 15% of the 500,000 people living with HIV (PLHIV) who were on antiretroviral treatment (ART) stopped taking the life prolonging drugs. Many people with terminal illnesses, are made to believe that they are either obsessed or have been attacked by demons.

Safari Mbewe, Executive Director for Malawi Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS (Manet+), said that it is sad to see people discontinuing with medication that they are supposed to take to prolong their own life for non-substantial reasons. “It is sad that most of them have been convinced by some religious leader that they have been healed,” he said. Coordinator for Project Axshya (which is being implemented in India by The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease-The Union) Subrat Mohanty says religious institutions can play a positive role in combating TB, because they have a strong and wider network “They are respected and accepted by specific communities. We have used such networks in India to help spread information and create awareness about TB and it has helped,” he said. Several religious organisations in Malawi have health programmes that are tackling the issue of HIV/AIDS and many other diseases, and this has had a positive impact in changing the mind-set of society and reducing stigma. For instance, the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) established Catholic Health Commission in 2004.

According to ECM, the commission has a vision to assist people by a Holy Spirit filled family of God committed to the provision of equitable, sustainable and quality health care for all regardless of gender, race, colour and religion. “To continue the Healing Ministry of Christ through the promotion of human life, the provision of preventive, curative and rehabilitative services in a holistic manner, through participation in collaborative networks and partnerships, in accordance with the needs and capacities of the communities, and in line with Catholic core values and principles,” reads part of the mission statement. It further says its mandate is to coordinate the health services and programmes implemented by the Church. Apart from running a number of institutions, the Catholic Health Commission runs community based programmes such as home based care, community based child care centres and integrated HIV/AIDS response. The Commission is serving a population of approximately 2 million Malawians. Most services are provided for a fee, except those of home based care, immunizations and nutrition rehabilitation, which are free. The commission, just like many other religious groups, has set the precedence of using faith not only to fight TB but many other diseases as well.

Josephine Chinele, Citizen News Service - CNS
March 16, 2017