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Zimbabwe, 14 April 2016: Drought drives some Apostolic faith members to seek medical help for children

© UNICEF/2016
Apostolic members believe that the healing powers and spiritual gifts are from God and used them in promoting maternal and child health, facilitating child delivery, and restoring health to the sick.

By Godfrey Mutizwa

MURAMBINDA, Zimbabwe – Sister Silindiwe Shamhu had never seen anything like it in her decade at Murambinda Mission Hospital – a woman in Apostolic faith headdress on the hospital grounds with a child.

“We were pleasantly surprised,” Sister Shamhu, the matron said in an interview at the hospital, the largest in Buhera district, Manicaland province. “I really appreciated the bravery of that woman.

“Nursing staff at the hospital say some members are now openly bringing their children for treatment while others have come disguised. The same trend has been witnessed at screening centres throughout the district,” she said.

The Apostolic Church, Zimbabwe’s largest religious denomination with 32 percent followers according to the 2010 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health survey, generally forbids members from using modern medicine and health facilities, exhorting members to prayer to cure all ailments. A 2011 study by a researcher Brian Maguranyanga found the Johanne Marange, Johanne Masowe and Madhidha groups demand strict adherence to church beliefs and practices with sanctions for non-conformity.

Maguranyanga says the Apostolic members believe that the healing powers and spiritual gifts are from God and used them in promoting maternal and child health, facilitating child delivery, and restoring health to the sick. Stricter interpretation teaches that the modern healthcare system is heathen and glorify man above God.

Zimbabwe’s worst drought of the new millennium has created the country’s severest food insecurity crisis in 15 years, with Buhera the worst affected district in the country at 61 percent. UNICEF says a third of households are going hungry and the situation will get worse as the year progresses.

Agricultural officials in the district say most of the crop is a write-off and following on from a poor harvest in the previous farming season, means most households have depleted reserves at a time when food prices are accelerating again.

Buhera borders the church’s headquarters in Marange, Manicaland province and any weakening of the rule would be welcomed by the government and concerned Non-Governmental Organizations which for years encouraged the church to allow its members to seek medical help.

However the trend risks conflict with strict Apostolic faith members.

Sister Shamhu narrated a recent case where a sick child was at the centre of a tug of war between community health workers and her parents. The child was identified as malnourished but the parents refused to take her to hospital. The case was taken up by Rujeko, a local non-governmental organization but the parents refused.

Eventually the District Medical Officer Shelton Kwiri told health workers to admit the child in hospital even as the father vowed to disown her. After treatment, the child recovered and was returned to the parents where health workers say she appears to be living normally.

In another case, health workers were tipped off about a family of eight that had contracted malaria. It took police intervention in that case to get them to hospital as tempers boiled, Sister Shamu said.

“The communities are getting really active because of the drought,” she said. “There are whistleblowers actively working to ensure sick people are brought to hospital.”

 

 
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