Thursday, April 17, 2014

‘Healing’ crusade poses serious health risk

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 13 April 2014

Kenyans are a highly religious people. This is borne out not only by their open declarations of religious affiliation, but also by their often overzealous demonstration of religious fervour whenever they are called upon to do so. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. It might even be a good thing, especially in circumstances when this religious zeal is directed at activities aimed at improving the lot of needy individuals or humanity at large.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of religious belief, occasional tragedies occur. There are multiple examples of this, and it is pointless to rehash them here. The reason they occur is that the average religious person takes the message from their holy book or their cleric literally. Many proclaim that their clerics are messengers of their deity, and the holy book is the unquestionable transcription of the deity’s words. Sometimes the outcome of this blind obedience is serious harm and even death, but even these are explained away as the doings of an inscrutable deity.

Over the long Easter weekend, one such cleric will descend upon Eldoret with the professed mission of spreading the message of repentance and holiness. As has been the practice in previous crusades of a similar nature, it is expected that many will ferry their sick relatives from far and wide, and present them to this preacher who is also fabled to be a faith healer. 


Those of us taking care of thousands of Kenyans with chronic conditions will be waiting for the inevitable outcomes with dread. We know many patients who have already abandoned their medications and clinic follow-ups in anticipation of healing at the crusade, and dozens more who will attend the crusade and abandon their treatment.

We dread the reports we shall get when we follow-up patients with chronic conditions like HIV, cancer, diabetes and mental illnesses to their homes. We fear we will be told some of them died after being convinced they were healed at the crusade thus stopping their life-preserving treatments. We fear we will find them at home, wasting away while believing fully that they have either been healed, or that healing is on the way.

We dread the events we shall continue to encounter in the clinics of the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, weeks and months after the four-day crusade. Many patients will show up in deplorable health and, when asked what happened, they will say that they thought they had received healing at the Easter crusade. Many more will suffer irreversible damage due to chronic illness, and will return to the hospital only at the urging of worried family members.

Why do we raise the red flag at this point, before the crusade happens? Because we believe it is still within the powers of the organisers of the crusade to do something about it and ensure that no lives are lost, and no one goes home in worse health.

The organisers and preachers should announce to their faithful that nobody should stop taking their medication or stop attending their regular clinics, in anticipation of healing. That simple message will save dozens of lives, and ensure continuing good health for countless others, which one would expect is a good thing for the organisers of the crusade. 

Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine.

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