Feature Article of Friday, 18 November 2016

Columnist: Jeffery Amo-Asare

Religious or other beliefs vs medical treatment of children

A report on child mortality indicates that globally in 2013, 3.7 million children aged one month to 4 years of age died. Half of the child deaths occur in Sub-Saharan Africa. Major causes of these death of children under five include, Diarrhea, Malaria, Malnutrition, Pneumonia and Preterm birth conditions. Two-thirds of child deaths have been documented as preventable.

Interventions such as low-tech, evidence based, cost-effective measures such as vaccines, antibiotics, micronutrient supplementation, insecticide-treated bed nets, improved family care and breastfeeding practice, and oral rehydration therapy have been noted to help decrease child death. All these interventions are notably practiced and available at registered health facilities nationwide.

Children in sub-Saharan Africa are more than 14 times more likely to die before the age of 5 than children in developed regions. Some communities in the part of this country have recorded highest rates of under-five mortality in West Africa. A major cause of such situations were as a result of strong adherence to traditional beliefs and practices.

In our part of the world, where many people attribute occurrence of diseases to spiritualism and witchcrafts, some children are sent to prayer camps and other spiritual centers for divine healing intervention. Many are the children who have died as a result of such practices and others reached deplorable state before sending to registered health facility. Though it is difficult for such cases to be documented, it is for a fact, many children are dying as a result of their parents’ adherence to religious or other beliefs for treatment.

A research done in Colorado and Oregon revealed an increased in juvenile death rates that paralleled the growth of anti-medical faith groups. As the number of these Spiritual centers grow high, the number of juvenile deaths soar high.

Much work on effect of religious or beliefs on the medical treatment of children in this country have not been documented but it doesn’t change the fact that its effect is clear in the country.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015 aim to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all children. The goal 3 target 3.2 indicates the end of preventable deaths of newborns and under-5 children by 2030.

In order for us as a country to achieve this and save the lives of our children, we need to take a critical look on how religious or other beliefs are affecting the lives of our children though such acts are against the laws of the country. WHO has signaled a strong commitment to achieve the vision and objectives of the Global Strategy and the SDGs by assisting Member States in strengthening health services and furnishing appropriate technical assistance.

Recently, there have been rapid growth of spiritual camps and other spiritual consultation centers in this country. Their adverts are clearly display, throughout the country. Many parents are lured to send their wards to such centers for medical treatment which mostly prove futile. Children in the end suffer due to certain belief of a parent or caregiver.

In Colorado, a child named Amanda Bates, 13, who died of a painful death from diabetes and gangrene in early 2001. Her family sent her to church to be healed but unfortunately died. She was the third child to die in that church in three years.

This motivated the legislators to eliminate an exemption from the child abuse law that protected parents from abuse charges if they withheld medical attention from children.

This is no news in this country. Many pregnant women died at child birth due to their failure to seek medical advice and care but resorted to certain traditions and beliefs which caused serious complications claiming their lives.

Research works have scientifically tested and provided evidence to support the claim that some religious beliefs have psychological or other benefits that contribute to illness recovery. Many churches have published testimonials claiming signs of healing as a result of divine interventions with medical practitioners attached to confirm signs of healing.

There are several religious group which are strongly against the use of medicine in treating the sick and solely depend on religious belief and practices as a source of treatment. A work done on death rates in graduates of a Christian Science college whose deny the reality of diseases and promote avoidance to medical services have been reported to be higher than graduates of a secular institution.

A case reported in Philadelphia 2009 revealed that two parents prayed and prayed but their 2-year old son died of pneumonia which antibiotics could have saved him. These parents were convicted of child endangerment and involuntary manslaughter and placed on probation but the same incident occurred four years later when their 8-month old son, Brandon, died again of bacterial pneumonia.

A study in British Medical Journal concerning spiritual healing, therapeutic touch and faith healing revealed among a hundred cases reviewed, no single case resulted in any improvement or cure of a measurable organic disability. Another study published by a group at John Hopkins reported no significant effects on pain, mood, health perceptions, illness intrusiveness, or self-efficacy but a small improvement in reported energy in a double-blind study to test the efficacy of spiritual exercise in chronically ill adults.

A researcher conducted a case study of 23 people who claimed to have cured during services at Kathryn Kuhlman 1967 fellowship in Philadelphia. Conclusion from her long-term follow ups revealed that there were no cures in those cases. The study revealed that a woman who was said to have been healed of spinal cancer threw away her brace and ran across the stage but her spine collapsed the next day and died four months later. in 1976, Kuhlman died following open-heart surgery.

I personally have encountered people who claimed of being healed during their visit to spiritual centers but eventually died or reached deplorable state. I have seen leaders of spiritual centers who eventually ended up receiving treatment at registered health facilities in the country, some eventually died. American Cancer Society revealed that scientific evidence does not support claims that faith healing can actually cure physical ailment. They undertook a study of 172 cases of deaths among children treated by faith healing instead of conventional methods. In their estimate, they indicated that the survival rate of most of these children would have been more than 90 percent if these children were treated medically. Another research also indicated that more than 200 children had died of treatable illness in the United States over the past thirty years because of their parents’ reliance on spiritual belief than conventional medical treatment. A report revealed that six people died due to their refusal to take medication when they were told that they had been healed of HIV.

Some countries have convicted parents of child abuse and felony for killing their children when they withheld lifesaving medical care due to religious or other beliefs. I am yet to hear such a case in this country where parents had been convicted as a result of death of a child due to their failure to seek medical treatment.

As a Christian, I do not doubt God capability of healing people. In fact, some doctors believe in miracles thus, they have encountered situations where all procedures proved futile and suddenly, something happened which brought about healing process. There is no law enforcing citizens in this country to seek medical care only from registered health centers. Every citizen can resort to any belief to provide treatment but when it comes to children, the law states it clearly that no religious or other beliefs should be adhered to deny them of receiving medical treatment. Chapter 5 section 28 (4) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana and Section 8 subsection 2 of the Children’s Act 560 state clearly that no child shall be deprived by any other person of medical treatment, education or any other social or economic benefit by reason only of religious or other beliefs.

It is unfortunate that many child deaths do not go through proper investigation and postmortem examinations and therefore becomes extremely difficult to determine the exact number of death resulted due to negligence or failure of parent or caregiver to seek timely medical treatment for their ward due to certain beliefs. The lives of our children are paramount to nation building and therefore it is every citizen’s responsibility to ensure they are secured and protected.

The message is simple, religious or other beliefs have been denying our children the quality medical care they need and therefore claiming their lives.

It is time for parents to be held responsible for the course of death of any child as a result of denial of medical treatment due to adherence to religious or other beliefs. The next time your child falls sick, it is the right of the child to be medically treated irrespective of the religious and other beliefs you adhere to. Let’s support our children by respecting their rights to quality health care.