The Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AFAW) commends the Ugandan authorities for closing down an evangelical church in Kampala where a pastor “treated” people with mental illnesses through prayer. According to a BBC report, the police in Uganda arrested the pastor and rescued many people held at the church. Nine of them were shackled to metal poles as part of the treatment process. There have been reports of similar ‘healing’ practices in Nigeria, Ghana and Zambia
In the quest to grow their churches and finances, many African clerics venture into faith healing.
Evangelical churches as well as Islamic centers across Africa operate faith clinics, prayer camps where they claim to provide healing services for persons with all diseases, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, and even COVID-19. In the absence of affordable health care, many Africans go to churches to get “healed” by faith. But they end up suffering abuses and further health damage.
Unfortunately, for many people across the region, faith healing places are the first port of call whenever they fall ill. In the Ugandan case, most of the persons rescued had not been to any mental hospital. The reality is that many people cannot afford the costs of evidence-based medicine or treatment, even if there are hospitals to go to.
The mental health infrastructure is inadequate. Mental health hospitals are few in the region. Some countries have mental hospitals, but they lack equipment or facilities. In cases where the facilities exist, there are no health experts to operate them. And where there are equipment and personnel, the cost of mental health services is out of reach for the local population. As the case in Uganda has shown, evangelical churches are filling the personnel and infrastructural gap in the mental health sector in ways that leave much to be desired. And local authorities must rise to their duties and responsibilities.
AFAW urges African governments to explore ways of improving evidence-based mental health care in the region. Governments should make medical services available and affordable to the local population. Without a robust public health care system that most people can access and afford, these faith clinics will continue to operate and proliferate. Governments should devise innovative ways of stopping the brain drain and address factors that make African health workers migrate to work in the West. Brain drain has created a personnel gap, which these pastors and fake healers are trying to fill.
As was the case in Uganda, the police should arrest faith healing pastors/imams and close down their churches and healing centers. Although faith clinicians seem to be filling the gaps in the health sector, they are making the health situation worse because faith healers lack the capacity and competence to deliver effective health care services. Governments should prosecute pastors, imams, or anyone who pretends to treat people with mental illness through prayers and rituals because these medical impostors are harming, not healing people.
By their training, traditional, Christian, and Islamic clerics are religious, not medical experts. They have no business with mental health work. Churches, mosques, and shrines are worship centers, not hospitals. They are not established or equipped to treat the sick. Clerics who claim to treat people with mental illness through prayer are quacks and charlatans. They pose a danger to public health. They spiritualize ailments and attribute the causes of diseases to demons and witchcraft and then subject the sick to violent exorcism and abuse. Other African countries should borrow a leaf from Uganda and rein in ‘faith doctors’ and stamp out faith-healing practices.