‘’Doctor, it’s fine, I’ll go see the man of God’’, she said unperturbed by everything I just told her. After a 30minutes post test counseling, that was the least I expected from my patient. She is not alone, she is just one of the many who are being influenced by the things they see on TV. The so-called Man of God syndrome which is affecting most of Africa and Cameroon in particular is becoming a major threat to healthcare.
Given that most people around me own a Television and subscribe to cable networks and given the easy accessibility to the internet, there is an increase in the number of people to whom these messages get to.
These men promise their followers many things and since good health is a very important wish of every human being, it is difficult to resist the temptation of not accepting what they say especially when others come and ‘’testify’’ about what the men of God have done in their lives.
They say ‘’if you think knowledge is expensive, try ignorance’’, but I think having the wrong information could be fatal. A society which is engulfed with messages that promise instant health and discouraging patients especially those with chronic illnesses from taking their medications endangers the lives of its people.
It is no news to hear of HIV patients who died after they stopped taking their Antiretroviral medications because a ‘’Prophet’’ declared them cured of HIV or a diabetic coming to the Emergency unit with late complications because of poor blood sugar control after they have been declared ‘’free’’ of demons.
It’s already difficult convincing an HIV patient to begin a life-long treatment but it’s even more difficult to convince the other patient who thinks the cause of his illness is not a virus but some spirit or demon inflicted on him by his enemies and which can be remove by the ‘’laying of hands’’ by the prophet.
The society has become polarized with messages and counter messages on health. How can you carry out a proper talk on health education to a group of diabetic patients when most of them don’t believe they have the disease? How do you counsel your patient properly when you know all you say will be diluted as soon as your patient is in front of their TV set?
Lack of information in the past may have been an issue but one of the main problems of primary health care today is tackling the wrong information that patients get from diverse sources.
Just like the many patients who suffer from these conditions, we have to accept that there is a problem. That problem is misinformation from these so-called ‘’men of God’’. We see them every day, they are everywhere and the earlier we acknowledge the problem and fight against it rigorously the better our society becomes and the easier it will be to pass our health-related message across.
Every man’s believe is part of his/her identity and freedom of worship is a fundamental right and as health care providers in the community we are obliged to respect and treat everybody the same, no matter their background and religious believes, but I think when that believe becomes a threat to life, I think it’s the duty of healthcare providers to protect these people.
Just as there have been many unorthodox methods of treating illnesses in the past, so is the new trend of ‘’laying of hands’’. Modern medicine does not have all the answers, and in as much as the believes of these men of God are respected, as healthcare providers we owe it to our community the duty of providing them with evidence based healthcare and protecting them from information that puts their lives at risk.
Back to my patient above, a few more counseling helped persuade her to accept her condition and begin treatment but many other patients aren’t so lucky. There are many more patients out there who need help, please, let’s not give up, help them.
This article is a contribution of Sam Denise Movuh, FHS/UB Cameroon