By Constantine Asahngwa, Charlotte Bongfen, Odette Kibu, Ronald Gobina, Nkengafack Fobellah, Denis Foretia (Download pdf version)
The Practice of Christian Faith Healing: Does it Have a Place in the Cameroonian Health Care System?
In Cameroon, like in other parts of the world, the public is open to multiple health-seeking pathways, which can be broadly classified under two leading health care systems-biomedicine (also known as western medicine) and traditional and alternative medicine (TAM) . The former refers to the art of seeking healthcare services from a biomedical health facility (such as a hospital, clinic, health center or pharmacy, etc.). At the same time, the latter involves seeking health care from any non-biomedical health facility or institution (such as African traditional medicine, Chinese medicine, Indian medicine, etc.) . However, a popular field of health care service provisioning known as Christian Faith Healing (CFH) has gained ground in many societies across the world, including Cameroon .
The phenomenon of CFH refers to the practice whereby people who experience ill health seek healing from some Christian religious facilities such as churches, prayer houses, and healing centers . Despite its popularity, this domain of health care service delivery is yet to sufficiently attract the attention of scholars as well as decision-makers in the domain of policy and clinical practice. When insufficient attention is given to a sensitive phenomenon like CFH, the population is likely to remain in a state of confusion regarding the proper course of action, the right pattern of the resort, or to pursue the right therapeutic option when seeking care in times of ill-health.
Based on the literature on CFH, this paper will attempt responses to questions such as why people seek faith healing? How common is the practice? What are the methods used? How effective is the practice with respect to health outcomes? What are some of the challenges associated with the practice? Does CFH have any place in the Cameroonian health system?
Why Are People Seeking Faith Healing?
Patients and caregivers resort to faith healing providers for a variety of reasons. The perceived cause of the illness is one of the main reasons why faith healers are increasingly being solicited. It is a widely shared belief that supernatural forces and agents (such as evil spirits, demons, witches and wizards, etc.) are responsible for a variety of illnesses . With such perceptions about disease etiology, people will seek healing from faith healing facilities or traditional healers .
Another common reason why faith healing is prioritized over other existing therapeutic choices is due to treatment failures from biomedicine or from traditional medicine. When patients seek health from these facilities and the sickness still persists, it is believed that the cause is not natural but spiritual, and they will seek faith healing . People also solicit the services of faith healers for illness preventive purposes. It is believed that through prayers, you are protected from evil spirits who inflict diseases on people .
Furthermore, some patients seek faith healing for reasons such as poor-quality service delivery in public biomedical health facilities and the high cost of care in private biomedical health facilities. Looking at the reasons why people seek faith healing, the main idea that cuts across is the connection of evil spirits as agents of illness causation and poor-quality service delivery.
How Wide Spread is the Practice of CFH in Cameroon?
Studies on CFH in Cameroon are really scarce, with most of the evidence coming from media reports. From observations and informal conversations, the practice of CFH is common in Christian religious denominations founded on the principles of Pentecostalism or what is termed the “new religion,” commonly called “born again churches” . However, this does not mean that it is not a reality in conventional churches (Catholic, Presbyterian, and Baptist).
The practice is a reality in both urban and rural settings as there are many Pentecostal churches existing in Cameroon. As earlier mentioned, a comprehensive inventory (baseline study) of the scope, breadth, and depth of the practice has not been undertaken, thus making it difficult to present clear statistics that reflect the magnitude of the practice.
Methods Used in the Practice of CFH
Faith healing is usually carried out by spiritual leaders (Priests, Pastors, Prophets, Apostles, etc.). The methods involve the use of prayers, prophesies, miracles, and declarations, just to mention a few. The healers believe they have been called and to be used by God to provide healing and deliverance to those who have faith in God. Some of the instruments used include anointed materials (water, Holy Bible, stickers, tee shirts, handkerchiefs, oil, etc.). These materials can be used alongside prayers, declarations, and prophesies . The healing usually takes place during church service, healing, and deliverance service, or during crusades. Patients are invited through the existing traditional and social media platforms or through individual contacts.
Patients seeking faith healing report all kinds of diseases; however, the healers believe that there is no illness condition that God cannot cure. It all depends on the patient’s genuine willingness to be healed . Some of the patients who go for healing have tried other treatment options, especially from biomedical health facilities, and have been unsuccessful. This is very common with patients suffering from terminal diseases (diabetes, kidney problems, cancer, lumbar spondylosis, eye diseases, etc.) .
Additionally, patients who lack the financial resources needed to treat their illness conditions in biomedical health facilities also resort to faith healing services. It is also worth indicating that the healing method, process, and techniques vary among healers, depending on how the Holy Spirit instructs.
The Effectiveness of CFH
Patients who resort to faith healing usually experience different health outcomes. Some patients get instant healing; that is, they get cured of the disease they have been suffering from, which led to their encounter with the healer. It is easy to investigate their current health status if, in that healing facility, patients present an authentic medical report as a condition to have access to the healer. In such a case, patients present their medical reports before and after receiving prayers .
With some patients, the complete healing does not take place instantly like for other patients. Although the patients experience a change and some relief from the pain, the complete healing occurs gradually even when the patient gets back home. Some patients do not get healed from their illness condition for several reasons, such as lack of faith, unpreparedness, and the questionable authenticity of the healer.
Consequently, some patients seek another healer, others go back to a biomedical facility for treatment, while some decide to stay with the disease and keep trusting God for healing . The success or failure of healing depends on a few factors that will be explored in greater detail in another project. At this point, it becomes challenging to provide precise figures on the positive or negative effects of CFH on health outcomes due to the absence of rigorous empirical evidence on the phenomenon.
Some Challenges With the Practice of CFH
The practice of faith healing is a reality and has a positive impact on the health outcomes of patients in Cameroon. However, this popular but neglected domain of health services delivery is not without some challenges. First, the credibility of faith healing facilities and their healers remain a critical challenge. Given that the practice of faith healing has a very strong spiritual component makes, it is difficult to isolate unqualified healers from the qualified. Healers argue that their involvement in healing is divine, making it difficult to empirically investigate the truthfulness behind their calling.
Second, it is also challenging to determine if a patient’s first choice in health-seeking is faith healing, given that insufficient empirical evidence exists to support this. Third, the fact that some doctors refuse to issue medical reports to patients in need of one to seek a faith healing service makes a bad case worst. The refusal disrupts the process of verifying the authenticity of the practice on health outcomes.
Fourth, some patients who resort to faith healing as the start point in their patterns of the resort and are unsuccessful suffer from the consequences of delays in seeking health care from biomedical health facilities. Fifth, the lack of sufficient empirical studies and policy prescriptions leaves the population confused and can be misled as health-seeking decision-making is left entirely to individuals, relatives, and neighbors.
Does CFH Have a Place in the Health Care System in Cameroon?
Faith healing is a popular health care service with positive impacts on health outcomes for many patients. The practice is a reality as many people continue to benefit from their services. However, the absence of a solid evidence base to fully grasps the strength and weaknesses of the practice demands some caution when making some sensitive declarations. However, this domain of health care service can be given a place in the Cameroonian health care system if certain critical actions are undertaken:
- Large scale rigorous empirical studies need to be conducted to establish the scope and magnitude of its positive impact on health outcomes for patients.
- There is a need for high-quality empirical studies to be undertaken to establish the magnitude, scope, and depth of the practice in Cameroon.
- The government needs to regulate the sector to whip out charlatans and put an order in this sector.
- There is also needed to strengthen collaboration between biomedical health practitioners and faith healers to strengthen the scientific base of the investigation process.
- The public and healthcare practitioners need to be educated regarding the strength and weaknesses of the practice as well as the existing avenues for collaboration for better health outcomes.
Christian faith healing is a reality and has some positive impacts on health outcomes for patients. Patients seek health from faith healing facilities for a variety of reasons, such as perceived cause of illness, limited financial resources, and treatment failures from biomedical health facilities.
The practice is common in both urban and rural settings and is associated with the principles of Pentecostalism. However, the practice is flooded with critical challenges such as establishing the credibility of the healer and the facility, lack of collaboration between healers and medical doctors, lack of proper regulation, and a solid evidence base.
There is a strong need to collect sufficient empirical data to establish the magnitude of the practice in terms of its strength and weaknesses for proper insertion into the Cameroonian health care system.
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