“She has drug resistant tuberculosis and was taken to the treatment centre which is meant for bad cases. Though she had an issue with taking her drugs, she got better at the centre, went back to her community and stopped taking her drugs at all.
“In a follow up, I went to look for her in her local government but was told that she was in another local government; I traced her the whole day to the new community and later met her in a church where they said she was receiving ‘prayers’. She looked very pale and emaciated; I was moved to tears; immediately, I went to explain to the pastor that the woman had a curable ailment and should be taken to the hospital. I had to quote Jeremiah 8:22 for him and he later accepted. I took her back to the treatment centre, normally we don’t take people twice to the treatment centre but I had to break protocol for her to be readmitted.
“She came to the centre, started getting better; gained some weight; went back to the community and stopped the medication because she went to another prayer house, but the worst later happened! She had the chances of survival because she was not even HIV positive, or had other constraining factors that hinder treatment, all she needed was to take her complete medication and be fine but she did not because she believed that staying in a prayer house would heal her of tuberculosis. It was a case that could have been saved at no cost to her because treatment in the centre is free, it was very unfortunate.”
This was how the programme manager, Akwa Ibom State Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control Programme (TBLCP), Bassey Akpan, narrated in an emotion laden voice how he lost a patient diagnosed of Tuberculosis but who preferred staying in a prayer house for healing instead of taking proper medication.
Dr Akpan, who pointed out similar cases in the State, urged sick persons to go to the hospital for treatment and still pray to God for healing.
Despite the awareness by government and some non-governmental organizations on the need to access healthcare services early when sick, the level of patronage of churches for healing and for childbirth is alarming in some communities in Akwa Ibom State.
The efficacy of prayer on the sick, however, cannot be questioned, but that should not erode the sensibility of people in seeking medical attention early enough when sick.
Unfortunately, some persons may out of ignorance, believe that their ailments can be cured by applying holy water, anointing oil or by sleeping in prayer houses for cleansing, but sometimes when their case is irredeemable, they would go to the hospital which in most cases may be too late.
It has been recorded by experts that most of the deaths in health centres were as a result of delay in seeking healthcare, delay in reaching health care facilities due to late referrals and delay in receiving the health care.
Pregnant women are also caught in the ugly web as some of them prefer the Traditional Birth Attendants who basically run these churches and healing homes.
The World Health Organization, WHO, stated that the high maternal mortality rate in Akwa Ibom is linked to low skilled birth attendants.
According to the 2018 survey by WHO, only 44 percent of births in the State were attended by skilled medical personnel.
Pharm Lucy Bernard, Program Officer of Provider Behaviour Change, Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria,BA-N, a USAID-funded project in Akwa Ibom in a workshop regretted that some pregnant women in the State, especially non-first-time mothers, do not register for antenatal clinics early as they claim they know everything about childbirth.
She said some do not only register at the 32nd week of pregnancy but go to traditional birth attendants largely run by religious leaders for their clinical services.
She, however, recalled how a woman lost her twins during childbirth in a TBA centre due to complications beyond the TBA, adding that some women have practically refused to go to hospital due to so much believe in the prayer houses, even as she encouraged the faith-based leaders to also encourage their sick and pregnant women to go to clinic for treatments.
Recounting her experience, Bernard said, “we encourage our people to go to the clinic. We had a situation of a woman who lost her twins in TBA, upon delivery, there was a placenta retention which is far beyond Traditional birth attendants. The TBAs are also faith-based, some women who manage to come to a clinic, when you give them drugs, will say no, I must go back to my TBA, so that she can ‘unlock’ me before I can take the drugs. These are the issues we are having, we are talking about giving Sulphadoxine Pyrimetamine (SP) to pregnant women for malaria prevention.“
A nurse in the University of Uyo Teaching hospital, who did not want her name mentioned, regretted that some pregnant women who developed complications while having their babies in the churches, were brought to the hospital almost dead.
She explained that some were presented with eclampsia at the time of admission, but the final cause of death could be ”pulmonary edema, multiple organ dysfunction syndrome, Cardiovascular accident or aspiration pneumonia.”
She called on pregnant women to go to the hospital for proper management.
Also, one Joshua Akpan, narrated how a pregnant woman, who was sick, instead of going to hospital went to a church for prayers and the pastor placed her on dry fasting adding that the woman escaped death by the whiskers as people who visited the church saw her condition and bundled her to a hospital where she was diagnosed of acute malaria and adequate treatment was given to her.
In a live interactive session hosted by the General overseer of the Solid Rock Kingdom Church, Apostle Elijah John Okoriko on Sunday with the theme, ‘Superstition versus Sciences,’ the guest speaker, Dr Asuquo Otobong urged christians to do away with some myths and embrace medical services when sick.
Otobong regretted that some churches in the State, especially the orthodox ones, were bent on practicing medicine at the back of their churches.
According to him, “I have a burden to discuss with some churches, especially the orthodox ones. They should do away with some of these unhealthy practices. They will be having services in the church and at the back of the church building, you see pregnant women who they will be subjecting to fasting.
“In one of my outings, I saw a child in a church that had Tuberculosis Abdomen and pus had spread all over his abdomen; instead of taking him to hospital, they made him stay under banana leaves and they were pouring water on the leaves which would touch down the child’s head claiming that the child would be cleansed and healed.
“I was like, I will give you people one hour and if this child doesn’t get well, I’ll take him to hospital, which I did because the child did not get well after much water was poured on him. I arranged and necessary surgeries were carried out, the pus was drained, as I’m speaking, the boy is alive and a grown up now.
“So many people when they are diagnosed of an ailment such as cancer, instead of tackling it medically, will out of fear run to a pastor for prayers or to a prayer house. They will stay there for over six, eight months and when the situation is out of hand, they will come back to the teaching hospital and expect the doctors and nurses to perform wonders which will not come and they will turn to label the teaching hospital a death trap.”
Meanwhile, investigations have revealed that those who patronize some of the healing homes do pay to get services as they are always required to pay some cash and buy humongous items for prayers, that is to say that healing in such places is not free after all.
It was also gathered that due to digitalization, herbal homes have been converted into churches or spiritual homes so that people will feel at ease to patronize them.
One Edna Uwem said the reason she admitted to the services of one of the homes was because it is a church and she believed that God will heal her, adding that unfortunately, she had parted with some cash but yet to be totally cured, even as she noted that she was diagnosed of chronic infection when she eventually went to the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital.
Also, one Unwana Ndem, a native of Ibiono Ibom Local Council of the State, who is a survivor from a healing home in her area, said that it is not in all cases that one should go to hospital, explaining that she was allegedly bewitched by her uncle and would not waste her time going to hospital, rather her husband brought her to the church for prayers and treatment.
Speaking with her husband, Don Edem, he said, “before you fight the physical, you must fight the spiritual. I brought her here so that God will heal her totally. I bought all the items they asked me to buy and I have paid the money I was meant to pay. There are other people here who have worse cases than that of wife and God healed them in this place. I have no regrets bringing my wife here.”
But, Eno Abraham was not as lucky as Unwana as she died due to heavy bleeding during childbirth at an undisclosed TBA. Her husband explained that his wife died because there were no emergency healthcare services in his area.
Worried by the trend rearing its ugly head in the State, BA-N in a training organized for faith-based leaders, urged them to impress on their members the need to go to hospital when sick and make themselves available for vaccination in order to prevent any disease and infection.
The Project Coordinator, who described religious leaders as potent agents for the clampdown on the patronage of prayer houses instead of hospitals, said the organization had employed the services of the faith-based leaders to achieve the purpose of influencing the behavioural change of congregants.
“We’ve been working with religious leaders for a long time. They have been creating awareness and referring people to hospitals to access health services, they integrate all these messages to their religious sermons,” he said.
In an interview, the senior pastor of Insight Bible Church, Pastor Sylvanus Ukafia, who is also a medical doctor, said pastors who fail to encourage their members to go to hospital are just ignorant of the scriptures.
“I am a pastors’ trainer, why we are here is to see how to influence a behaviour within our community, so that men of God can respond right to medical issues. We look at where we are lagging behind as pastors and how we can interact with other pastors who are doing anything risky.
“We’ll keep working with them until they understand what the scripture says, it’s basically ignorance! We are trying to reach such pastors, knowing that if we don’t reach them, they are going to mislead the people and that is why we are actively working with them. It is something we can work out,” he said.
Also, Alh Ahmed Isa of the State Council for Islamic Affairs, said some muslim faithfuls are also guilty of many myths and misconceptions about going to hospital.
Isa, who admitted that the level of access to medical services by his people was low, promised to change the narrative by passing the information across to them through sermons and other available mediums.
In an interview with an owner of one of the healing homes in Itu Local Council of the State, Mma Eno, she justified the importance of prayer houses in tackling some health issues, especially those inflicted by ‘enemies.’
She said, ”All power belongs to God and it is Him that heals. We don’t force people to come but whoever that believes that God will heal him or her in this place can always come and receive his healing. Some people had already gone to the hospital before coming here and God healed them to show that He is not a man.”
However, some other persons interviewed claimed that inadequate medical facilities and poverty hindered medical service delivery and discouraged people from going to the hospital.