Monday, December 26, 2011

Religion and Maternal Health in Malawi

Somewhere along the way, the majority somehow learned of, and fell
into, this ‘trap’; a trap experts say is commendable and in tune with
human passions of the day. This ‘trap’ is religion, a world of belief
in the existence of a supreme being.

“We need religion and spirituality in life,” says College of
Medicine’s Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor, Dr. Chiwoza
Bandawe. “We learn from Psychology of religion studies that faith
promotes good health.”
Without religion, says Dr. Bandawe, human beings are bound to be
gnawed constantly by a sense of inadequacy, frustration and failure.
This explains why, globally, most people are caught in the web of
religious orientation.
Religion is, in other words, the easy, straight path to a fulfilling life.
“The benefits of religion far outweigh the negatives. Religion helps
people become focused, and is critical in mental health because it
helps them navigate from challenges,” says Dr. Bandawe.
However, religion is not always a faultless paragon of virtue, he
notes; it sometimes renders its fanatics emotional in their
deliberations, vituperative in their denunciations, and prone to
engage in bitter, exaggerated personal attacks instead of
concentrating their fire upon the merits of an issue.
“This leads to self-guilt, and may lead to condemnation of others,” he says.
This is where religion turns into a trap because such individuals
cannot be swayed from negative practices, even in the midst of such
tragedies as poverty and disease.
A good example pertains to the issue of HIV and AIDS. As Malawi
teetered on the edge of a health- collapse between 1989 and 2004, some
religious leaders were raising the torch of faith as a cure for HIV
and AIDS.
“This proved to be a hindrance to national efforts to contain HIV and
AIDS. We had people who died after stopping taking ARVs. Others died,”
says Dr. Mary Shawa, Principal Secretary for Nutrition, HIV and AIDS
in the Office of the President and Cabinet.
In the end, government officials were prompted to incorporate prayer
as part of Malawi’s three-tier response to HIV and AIDS, and Shawa is
impressed with results of the Nutrition, ARVS and Prayer HIV and AIDS
response model.
So well for HIV and AIDS efforts, but the same cannot be said of best
Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) practices campaigns.
Take, for instance, the case of Ketula Frank, Rose Thauzeni and Olive
Nsona of Chilomoni Township in Blantyre.
Frank, a mother of four, says she has never delivered at the hospital
and sees no value in seeking prenatal and antenatal services from
health centres.
“Prayer, and not the SRH clinic, helps me deliver at home, without any
hassles whatsoever. In fact, I deliver without those doctors and
nurses. To me, faith in God serves as the best SRH clinic,” she says.
The same applies to Thauzeni, who answers with questions.
“Have you ever heard of cattle seeking SHR services at the clinic? I
have two children I delivered without health officials and will do
that again,” says Thauzeni.

Dr. Chiwoza Bandawe and (below) Dr. Fatsani Ngwalangwa-Kasinja

Their story of faith does not end without Olive Nsona, a mother of
four. “If hospitals are safe places for child deliveries, why do they
have mortuaries close by? Have you heard of a church building that is
adjoined to a mortuary?”
Theirs is a world of questions whose answer is always prayer.
Chances are that they may not be the only women who do not believe in
modern SRH practices. Chikhwawa district is one other place, according
to T/A Katunga.
“Fortunately, only a handful of my subjects are stopping their
pregnant wives from visiting hospitals for maternal health services,”
says Katunga.
Chikhwawa District’s Health Officer, Dr. Fatsani Ngwalangwa-Kasinja,
observes that, other than religion, cultural practices pose a
challenge to maternal health services.
For Fred Kwacha, head of Malawi’s traditional church, “imported
religion” is to blame for maternal deaths.
“’Foreign’ religion is to blame for all our problems, including
maternal deaths. This never happened in the past, when we used to
worship our ancestral spirits. Now the spirits are angry because
people have lost touch with culture,” says Kwacha.
While his conservationism has a strong strain of pragmatism, it also
points to the fact that religion could under siege in Malawi.
This is evident in a joint May 2011 Ministry of Health and UNFPA
report released in May 2011. The ‘Abortion in Malawi: Results of a
Study of Incidents and Magnitude of Complications due to Unsafe
Abortions’ report, the product of 2009 research, reveals that
religious women constitute 85.2 percent of people who carry out unsafe
Although Henry Chimbali, Ministry of Health’s spokesman, says the
findings are not an attack on religion, the truth remains that they
(results) forced some people to go home in silence- weighing the
significance of such words.

No comments: