By Norma Tsopo
HARARE – Government has expressed worry over the deeply religious nation’s craze to consult faith and traditional healers as they threaten its professional health care interventions amidst the emergence of a drug-resistant HIV strain.
A ministry of health and child care study which reveals that 85 percent of Zimbabweans were shunning professional health care for faith and traditional healing is spurring government to tighten regulations around medical practice.
“A study conducted by my ministry at the beginning of this year showed us that about 85 percent of people prefer consulting prophets and faith healers instead of going to hospitals,” Deputy Minister of Health and Child Care, Adrian Musiiwa said this week.
This comes as World Health Organisation (WHO) published a report showing a rising occurrence of drug-resistant strains of HIV in the country.
Two out of 30 HIV-positive people on anti-retroviral therapy (ART) in the country have shown signs of resistance to commonly used and most affordable drugs Efavirenz and Nevirapine, the report says.
The deputy health minister pinned part of the blame on the instructions some of the patients were getting from faith healers.
“There are a lot of unscrupulous people claiming to be faith healers thereby compromising people’s health. We have more than 900 000 people living with HIV and are on anti-retroviral treatment.
“Some faith healers claim to heal HIV and they tell our patients to stop taking their drugs. The patients default and they end up developing resistance to treatment,” said Musiiwa.
In response, he said his ministry was tightening regulations around medical practice.
“We therefore need to know who else is attending to our patients and what they’re telling them to do. If they’re giving them wrong information then we have to intervene as a ministry.”
He said the country’s rights to freedom of worship should not be used as license to interfere with the country’s health care programmes.
“In this country there is freedom of worship but it does not extend to freedom of healing… Healing is for the Ministry of Health and churches are for worshipping. Whoever feels that they are capable of healing people should be registered under the Traditional Medical Practitioners Council (TMPC) so that we monitor them and make sure that they are not compromising people’s health,” he said.
In a move that is likely to be resisted by charismatic Christian preachers who frown at being labeled traditional medical practitioners, Musiiwa said churches should have their pastors registered under TMPC.
“If a church believes that they have a pastor who is powerful to treat and heal people they have the right to vouch for their pastor and recommend him to operate under the Traditional Medical Practitioners Council. The ministry will then allow him to register and monitor him. We must know how they do it so that people are not taken for granted,” he said.