The number of patients rejecting treatment because of their religious beliefs is on the increase and doctors are getting worried.
Doctors who spoke to the Nation lamented that some patients are rejecting, at times life-saving medical interventions, “after praying over their conditions”.
The doctors, mainly from public hospitals, said they get at least one case every month of a patient risking his life by refusing to take treatment and this has left them frustrated.
They said some diabetic patients would just stop injecting themselves with insulin, while others would refuse to take anti-retroviral drugs for HIV or tuberculosis. Others have been refusing to undergo surgery.
Dr Anthony Akoto, the Sirisia Sub-County Hospital medical superintendent, recounted how a woman refused to undergo a procedure to remove a lump from her body.
“She also refused to have samples taken for tests,” Dr Akoto said by phone.
“I explained to her the need and urgency of the procedure but she insisted that she can only take oral medication, if we had those that could make the lump melt away as she had already prayed about it,” said Dr Akoto.
CHAIN OF INFECTIONS
Dr Eddy Mboya of Kisumu’s Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Training and Referral Hospital said one patient would not accept a blood transfusion because of her faith.
“I had been running around the hospital to get pints of blood to save her life only for her to refuse the procedure. She was adamant that she did not need blood. She said she is an adult and I could not force her into it. It is very sad,” Dr Mboya said.
Other doctors, spiritual healers and pastors had become an impediment to healthcare and are endangering lives, especially in cases of immunisation.
Out of the 23 doctors the Nation talked to, a majority said the patients did not understand the medical implications of their actions and only came to that realisation when it was too late.
Dr Akoto said: “By the time some patients are brought here, there is nothing we can do to save them. Some of them allow a simple ailment to get complicated by not seeking treatment.”
Younger doctors, most of whom work in public hospitals, experienced the challenge more than their older counterparts.
When some families refused to have their children vaccinated for polio, Dr Nicholas Muraguri, then director of medical services, said one case of an unvaccinated child poses a threat of initiating a chain of infections of a disease that is almost being eradicated.
This came just days after some Kenyans took to social media to mock supposed miracles preacher Dr David Owuor said he was performing at a prayer crusade in Kisumu.
Later on, the Attorney-General announced that his office would come up with tough laws to govern how religious institutions conduct their business, a move medical practitioners have welcomed.
Dr Elly Nyaim, the chairman of the Kenya Medical Association, accused preachers of endangering lives by praying for the sick and wearing out public confidence in medicine.
He said he is sad that some doctors are involved in the “shenanigans” and said he would investigate to find out if they are registered professionals.
Prof Stephen Akaranga, a religious scholar and the chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Nairobi, said it is not unusual for the public to embrace myths over evidence.
“Religion, with all its many tenets that include rituals, legal and social issues, ought to take care of the individual as a whole and when one of those tenets is ignored, it is not going to compliment health.”
Yet this does not occur in a vacuum.
Studies have shown that religious patients suffering from terminal illness have better health outcomes than their non-religious counterparts.