Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Regulators should control these religious quacks

By Lukoye Atwoli

Sunday Nation 19 August 2012

A few weeks ago, we were treated to a spectacle in which a famous televangelist was caught on camera tricking his congregation about his healing powers. He allegedly coached a woman to pretend that she had some mouth condition, and then went ahead and claimed to use some divine powers to heal her.

Despite the hullaballoo even in the evangelical Christian community, the noise has now died down, and one should not be surprised if the televangelist has gone back to his regular business.
Distressingly, however, even as the saga raged, national television stations continued to air episodes of other “healing” pastors purportedly treating all kinds of affliction each weekend. Claims are still being made on TV that some of these pastors are curing HIV, cancer and other chronic illnesses using various combinations of prayer and exorcism.
Whenever one first comes across these claims, there is a great temptation to blame the purveyors themselves and, to a lesser extent, the consumers of this sort of tripe. With time, however, one learns that there is a role for the government in all this. Unfortunately, due to fear of the unknown, the occult or religion, those in policy and leadership positions dare not touch these charlatans.
There are government departments responsible for vetting and approving medicines and medical procedures, as well as medical practitioners. They determine who may practise what sort of medicine, the sort of training required, and what substances may be administered as medications or treatments.
On an average day, they keep themselves busy monitoring doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and other health workers. If one were to ask these bodies if they have any role to play in regulating the so-called “religious healers”, they would unanimously respond in the negative.
A closer examination of the facts would, however, prove them wrong. Consider the following actual cases.
A person with HIV/Aids goes to “Bishop” so and so for prayers after “witnessing” his healing abilities on national TV, complete with a parade of emaciated “end-stage HIV patients” who get healed through prayer and exorcism. He goes for these prayers and subsequently stops taking his medications or attending his usual clinic. His condition deteriorates and he dies within a few months.
Another person living with cancer goes through the same routine in the hope for a cure, with the same disastrous results. This is repeated for people with diabetes, hypertension, and even mental illness. One must remember that these “procedures” are not done for free. Beneficiaries are required to make some contribution to the pastor’s kitty.
What would one say these “bishops”, “apostles” and “pastors” are selling? Aren’t they selling medical services, purporting to cure a wide range of chronic diseases? Would the relevant government agencies remain silent if some doctor started advertising her ability to “cure” HIV, cancer or diabetes? Wouldn’t they require her to produce evidence of the efficacy of her methods?
Wouldn’t they subject her purported cures to the most rigorous scientific testing in order to safeguard the health of consumers? Why shouldn’t we require the same standard for these dubious clergymen who traffic in fake miracles?
The Medical Practitioners and Dentists’ Board and other regulatory agencies in the ministries of Health need to get together and control these harmful quacks.
Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association, and a lecturer at the Moi University’s school of medicine lukoye@gmail.com; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

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