In his book, one minute after you die, Erwin W. Lutzer quotes:
Tom Howard says that when we face death we are like a hen before a cobra, incapable of doing anything at all in the presence of the very thing that seems to call for the most drastic and decisive action.
“There is, in fact, nothing we can do,” he writes. “Say what we will, dance how we will, we will soon enough be a heap of ruined feathers and bones, indistinguishable from the rest of the ruins that lie about.
It will not appear to matter in the slightest whether we met the enemy with equanimity, shrieks, or a trumped-up gaiety, there we will be.
When men are confronted with the issue of death, they are indeed capable of anything.
These words of Tom Howard are the words that rang in my mind as I listened to Golda Asante narrate the experiences of some persons living with HIV in prayer camps.
Prayer camps in the country have proven to be problematic than helpful, in their handling of health issues.
In the work of the Social Accountability Monitoring Committee (SAMC) in the Eastern Region to verify for themselves the harrowing conditions of people living with HIV in prayer camps, 77 prayer camps were visited by the committee.
During a forum to make known the findings of their work, it came to light that a lot of these Pastors and or Prophets who promise a cure to HIV have little or no idea about what HIV is.
It turned out that while some of these Prayer Camps do well in collaborating with health institutions in referring the sick, others camp the sick, including people living with HIV, and others having TB with the promise of a cure.
Unfortunately however, some of these after interactions with the SAMC team proved to have little or no knowledge about what they were curing.
In a rather sad tone, Golda Asante, A Technical Coordinator with the Ghana AIDS Commission who led the team, lamented the conditions.
She said, “…….again it was alarming that, even some of our Pastors or church leaders who claim and they go to radio stations, and many other places that they cure, they don’t even have basic information about HIV, and so you keep on wondering what they are curing”
She went on to state some of the false perceptions these camp leaders have “……if you have many people saying that, you can get HIV through dirty environment, eating bad food, and eating with persons living with HIV, then it is a source of concern”
Obviously, many of these prophets and prophetess, are toying with the lives of many clients who in the search for a cure end up in their camps.
The troubling side of the issue is with the living condition within which these clients spend their days at the camps.
Golda gave a gist, “…..with our visits, you see many people lying on uncemented floor, they are on the sand, and seeking healing, you may go there with a condition and end up with another”
Touching on the miracle side of ARTs Golda did not miss words, “with the Anti retroviral drugs, it is the best miracle we have for now. You can add prayer and I believe in God, “
Currently, through the (Preventing Mother to Child Transmission) PMTCT in the antenatal clinics, mothers who test positive are aided through treatment to deliver babies who test negative to the virus. This according to Golda is also a miracle of God.
She urged the public not to limit miracles only to that which happens in the church room.
On her part, the Chief Executive Officer of SOCIOSERVE who was with the team equally lamented the harrowing conditions of some of these camps.
Speaking exclusively to MJA’s Sylvanus Gatorwu, she didn’t miss words.
“Several things worried me, I think the biggest one was why today, we still have people who are ill being kept in prayer camps in very unhygienic conditions. Some of the conditions were very, very, very heartbreaking.”
Describing some of her observations, she went on to say, “you see people who are ill and they are laying on the bare floor, in the sand, with rain water sipping under their mat.”
As to why people would allow themselves to go through such in this dispensation of time, she was blunt. “…. they are lying there because the Pastor, the Prophet, or the Bishop says that, that is where they have to be. And they are lying in the open, are suffering from mosquito bites, wind, the sun and anything.”
BIRTH ATTENDANTS AT CAMPS
Madam Sackey recounted the situation of a Traditional Birth Attendant in a camp “The most heart breaking is the prophetess we visited who was also a TBA and she had nearly 50 pregnant women on admission!”
Traditional Birth Attendants are not entirely new in the country. The challenge has been how they handle complications which obviously are beyond them.
Madam Sackey in a broken voice poured out her heart in concerns “…..and I was thinking if you are pregnant, what are you doing here? If you having a baby and the baby is breech, what can this woman do for you? She can’t do anything for you. If you start bleeding, what can this woman do for you? She can’t do anything for you.” She lamented.
She went on “If you get pregnancy induced hypertension, she can’t do anything for you?”
She went on “If you get gestational diabetes, she cannot help you, but they were there, and they were under her care!”
According to Josephine Sackey, her biggest challenge was the believe on the part of the clients in these camps, their believe that they can be helped to deliver safely in such conditions.
On the issue of faith she quizzed on why the faith on an individual should become a disadvantage.
She added her voice to the call for religious leaders to seek knowledge.
She called on the state, civil society the media, to come together “to educate our people, to empower them to know that, the fact that you believe in God doesn’t mean it should go to your disadvantage.”
According to her, prayer should not bar one from seeking medical help.
The AGENDA 90-90-90 would be under serious threat if such conditions should continue.
On regulations, she agreed, it is time to regulate the activities of these camps. She called on legal minds to begin to look at how this could possibly be done.
She however said, it was daisy on how to handle the issue of churches and camps joining associations that can in turn regulate and oversee their work, because of freedom of association.
But she was keen on the regulation of their activities because, “there are extreme human rights abuses of vulnerable people going on in these camps”
She lastly called on the ministry of gender and women to come in to see how they can join in the regulation of these camps.
As there are “sick People in heart breaking conditions in prayer camps.”
Going forward, Golda was optimistic that the challenge of these camps can be overcome through training, training and training.
She said, the Commission was going to look for funding, and embark on a vigorous training of all stake holders involved in the positive response to HIV.
She believes once all the stakeholders are brought on board to know when to refer a person living with HIV, so they can pray while taking their ARTs, progress could be made.