Such faith healing claims dangerous

Feb 2013.  Lukoye Atwoli

Last Tuesday, the Daily Nation carried a feature story that quoted a medical doctor working for the National Aids and Sexually Transmitted Diseases Control Programme as saying that he had documented dozens of HIV/Aids patients who had supposedly been “healed” by an itinerant preacher. The preacher, presented as a top-notch scientist, was alleged to have wrought uncountable medical miracles, and the story cited a few cases of named individuals who claimed to have been cured of HIV by this preacher.

Unlike the common HIV cure claims, most faith-based “cures” are practically unverifiable because they concern illnesses for which objective evidence is difficult to come by, or symptoms that may be produced by hundreds of different largely benign conditions. Most patients who benefit most from “faith healers” and other practitioners of “alternative medicine” suffer from psychological afflictions whose treatment even in the conventional setting involves more talking than pills.

Examples abound of patients who have been healed by these “alternative practitioners” after sudden onset of blindness, deafness, muteness and paralysis. Many of the “healers” themselves are not utterly convinced about the veracity of their claims, because they have often been equally surprised by the instances of “healing”. Because they do not understand how it happened, they attribute it to divine intervention, spirits or occult forces depending on their underlying philosophical orientation.

Believers in these “healers” would be utterly flabbergasted if they visited a clinic run by a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist. On a daily basis, these highly trained mental health practitioners receive and treat several patients with exactly the same conditions described above. Many patients who suddenly went blind, deaf, mute, or got paralysed after a particularly stressful or traumatic event, enter the consultation rooms of these professionals and leave completely symptom-free.

The question therefore arises: Do mental health workers perform “miracles” similar to those procured by preachers and their ilk? Why don’t psychiatrists and psychologists then make claims of possessing supernatural powers to heal any and all illnesses? The answer is simply that these powers do not exist. The illnesses described above fall under a category of disorders well known to anyone who has received even rudimentary training in psychology, and are managed by means of psychotherapies that help patients to deal with their problems using more adaptive means.

The same techniques cannot be used to “cure” blindness due to actual damage to the visual apparatus, or paralysis due to injury to the nerves. The problem with the so-called “faith healers” is that they encounter instances of patients with these psychological illnesses who get instant “healing” and then generalise this effect to people with all kinds of illnesses. Herein lies the danger of endorsing their methods wholesale.

In the cited article, it is claimed that the preacher can “cure” people with HIV/Aids, and evidence is purportedly adduced to that effect. Being high-level scientists, one would have expected both the preacher and the doctor who endorses him to submit their claims to a peer-reviewed publication for validation and publication.

The truth of the matter is that there is currently no known cure for HIV, whether herbal, spiritual or conventional. 


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