Using faith to fight TB

Francis Okoye, CNS Correspondent, Nigeria
In a webinar organized by CNS, titled ‘Does faith help in fighting TB?’, experts from various sectors presented their views. One of the experts, Jody Boffa, a community based researcher and epidemiologist at Desmond Tutu TB centre, Stellenbosh University, Cape Town, South Africa, said that as a strong Christian and with her engagement with communities, she realized the  important role faith plays in TB care and control.

However, she noted that African traditional churches and traditional healing are incorporable with one another. 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, revealed he has joined hands with the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) and they have been working together in TB field. He said that faith works hand in hand with medical expertise to fight TB. Catherine Mwauyakufa, a community voice in the role of faith in HIV care and CNS correspondent from Zimbabwe talked of her own personal experiences in using faith to fight disease.

Subrat Mohanty of The Union gave an overview of Project Axshya (meaning 'free of TB’), which is an innovative civil society initiative to improve access to TB diagnosis and treatment in India implemented by The Union’s South East Asia Office, under a grant from the Global Fund. Axshya works across 300 districts in 21 states in India. Most of its interventions are focused on reaching out to marginalised and vulnerable groups, including, people living in poverty – particularly those living in slum areas, tribal groups, women, children, migrants, people living with HIV, people living with diabetes, people in high-risk occupations such as miners and those in hard to reach areas. Subrat explained that the use of religious institutions to fight TB is ideal, because religious institutions have strong and wider networks that influence and appeal to the adherents. Working with religious leaders in India’s Muslim community, Project Axshya has reached local Muslim religious schools, called Madrasas, in 9 districts of Bihar and 6 districts of Uttar Pradesh with crucial TB information, including recognising symptoms, and accessing free treatment and diagnostic services.

As of now, 17,000 students and teachers of the Madrasas have been provided with information on TB. The leaders in the Madrasas endorse the national TB programmes in several ways, by passing along information about TB following Friday prayers, providing educational materials to members of the community and conducting information sessions at mosques. Basic objective of the intervention is to involve religious bodies for spreading the message about TB and available tests and treatment services under the RNTCP. This faith-based initiative has improved access to TB care for India’s Muslim populations in the two states and can perhaps be applied to other religious groups and institutions in other parts of the country and the world. Also nutrition and social support through religious institutions for TB patients is highly recommended.

Francis Okoye, Citizen News Service - CNS
March 17, 2017