Ghanaian Prayer Camp Leader Now Promotes Medical Treatment for TB: "Not a Spiritual Disease"

Ghanaian Prayer Camp Leader Now Promotes Medical Treatment for TB: "Not a Spiritual Disease"

Grace Tsawe owns a prayer camp in Ghana's Lower Manya Krobo District. She recovered from TB, and uses her experience to encourage others to be tested and treated medically for TB. {Photo credit: B. Adusei/MSH.}Photo credit: B. Adusei/MSH.

Tuberculosis (TB) control in Ghana is challenging: detection of TB cases is low, and TB mortality rates high. In many communities, like Lower Manya Krobo District, these challenges are compounded by the popular belief that TB is a spiritual disease. Many Ghanaians who contract TB seek healing in prayer camps and shrines, rather than going to health facilities for testing and treatment. By the time these patients seek medical care, it often is too late to recover and avert death.

Lower Manya Krobo District has over 93,000 residents, and a high incidence of TB (209 cases per 100,000 people in 2011). The district is also home to many of the nation’s mushrooming prayer camps, where local healers provide daily services for ill residents. There are 50 prayer camps in Lower Manya Krobo District---and only 18 health facilities.

Grace Tsawe owns a prayer camp in this district, and she usually sees over 100 patients on her main clinic day.

Until recently, Grace did not see the need to refer her patients to health facilities, as she believed that TB could only be cured through prayer. However, in December of 2011, Grace developed a persistent cough and began rapidly losing weight. Although she prayed fervently, Grace’s symptoms persisted, and, eventually, she decided to visit Atua Government Hospital. The doctors at Atua tested Grace and, finding her infected with TB, promptly began her on treatment.

The USAID-funded project, TB CARE I Ghana, led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH) with partners KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation (KNCV) and the World Health Organization (WHO), has been working to increase TB case detection in the Lower Manya Krob District since early 2012. As part of this process, the project facilitated a workshop on TB infection control for over 120 of the district’s health workers. In addition to training the staff on TB screening, diagnosis, and treatment, TB CARE I has also taught them to encourage prayer camp owners to screen their patients for TB and refer them to health facilities if they are in need of testing and treatment.

One of the project’s trainees, Victoria, is a TB Coordinator at Atua Government Hospital. After Grace began TB treatment, Victoria encouraged her to give her prayer camp clients the same opportunity for testing and treatment. Having experienced a full recovery, Grace was easily persuaded and Victoria taught her how to identify TB symptoms and complete a timely referral to the hospital.

Grace is pleased to see how TB screening and treatment have helped to improve her patients’ health. “I now know that TB is not a spiritual disease and, when it is promptly tested and treated, TB is indeed curable. TB treatment has saved my life and I am ready to proudly give my testimony to my counterparts across the country,” she said.

Grace is now encouraging her fellow prayer camp owners to refer patients who they suspect of having TB to the hospital. Furthermore, Grace has requested support from the hospital to hold a workshop for other prayer camp owners so they can be trained in TB infection control. TB CARE I and the Atua Hospital managers are working with Grace to organize this training. Last year TB CARE I also arranged for Grace to give her testimony to a gathering of over 200 health professionals and local residents in Koforidua Region. The project is now developing a documentary film about Grace’s life that will be broadcast over local radio and TV stations across the country.

Grace Tsawe recovered from TB and now uses her experience to encourage others to be tested and treated medically for TB. (Photo credit: B. Adusei/MSH) Grace Tsawe, a prayer camp owner, encourages other prayer camp owners to promote medical screening and referral for TB. (Photo credit: B. Adusei/MSH)

Since 2012, TB CARE I has supported TB infection control interventions at the three main hospitals in Lower Manya Krobo District. In just 12 months, these efforts have allowed the district’s health workers to screen nearly 140,000 patients for TB. In total, 298 of these patients were diagnosed with TB and begun on treatment. The project is conducting similar trainings and support in four districts in Ghana’s eastern region. The TB CARE I team is documenting best practices and lessons learned from these activities and disseminating them to other health care workers in all 10 regions of Ghana.

Bismarck Owusu Adusei is a monitoring and evaluation specialist for TB CARE I Ghana at MSH.

Learn more about TB CARE I Ghana.

Editor’s note: This post is part of a " href="">World TB Day blog series on what works to stop TB. Join the conversation in the blog comments, and on Twitter with hashtags " href="" target="_blank"> and " href="" target="_blank">.