How deceptive prayer camps are causing maternal deaths

How deceptive prayer camps are causing maternal deaths
Source: Philip Afeti Korto | afetikorto@yahoo.com
Date: 12-08-2019 Time: 11:08:35:pm

Arguably, most prayer camps in Ghana have largely become a curse rather than a blessing to society thereby giving veracity to Karl Marx's assertion that "Religion is the opium of the people."

It appears to me that most believers in the Christian faith do not read the Bible hence they are easily swayed and they fall prey to prayer camp managers who end up deceiving them even to the point of death. Unhesitatingly, I support the idea that there is no bigger and more important rule or religion than humanity itself.

 It is a general observation that the female believer tends to patronize the prayer camps more than her male counterpart and even pregnant women are not left out.

The stark reality is that some pregnant women prefer the prayer camps to antenatal clinics or the hospital and this attitude has caused both stillbirths and maternal deaths in Ghana over the years.

In December 2018, Dr. Anthony Nsiah-Asare, the Director-General (DG) of the Ghana Health Service (GHS) was quoted by the Daily Graphic to have revealed that "nine per cent of women who die from maternal health complications in the northern zone visit prayer camps, while 20 per cent of women who die from maternal health complications in the middle zone visit prayer camps and 26 per cent of women who die from maternal health complications in the southern zone also visit prayer camps."

If this submission by the DG of GHS is true, then it means that 55% of the institutional maternal deaths recorded nationwide are attributable to prayer camp service utilization during pregnancy and late presentation at the hospitals. This situation is alarming. Summarily, the prayer camp has a significant negative impact on maternal healthcare delivery in Ghana.

 It would be recalled that Ghana was unable to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs 4 & 5) touching on improving child health and maternal health respectively in 2015. By the close of 2015, Ghana's Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) was 319 per 100,000 Live Births (LBs).

At the moment, Ghana is making another attempt to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG# 3 directly relate to maternal health since it is among other things meant to ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages with the aim of reducing by the year 2030, the global MMR to less than 70 per 100, 000 Live Births from the current global figure of 210 per 100,000Lbs. Sadly, Ghana's 2017 MMR stood at 343 per 100,000 LBs and this is also disturbing. It is in this vein that any causative factors germane to the high MMR must be taken seriously and one of them is the payer camp menace.

Pregnancy and its complications do have negative effects on both the mother and the foetus (the unborn child). Therefore, the dangers in pregnancy must be taken seriously and early medical interventions provided once the danger signs are noticed or experienced.

The danger signs in pregnancy are numerous and what one pregnant woman experiences is different from what the other goes through hence it is often difficult for non-medical and non-midwifery professionals to diagnose or decipher what is actually wrong with the pregnant woman let alone give the most appropriate treatment.

Even at the hospital, doctors do not diagnose most pregnancy related complications with clinical judgment but rather with the help of diagnostic tests such as laboratory tests or ultrasound tests etc.

As indicated earlier, the danger signs in pregnancy are numerous and vary from person to person depending on the individual's immune system. Some of the signs may also be constitutional symptoms which may not relate to the pregnancy alone but to something else which only a professional can detect.

Nevertheless, the most common danger signs in pregnancy are:

vaginal bleeding during pregnancy (even spotting should be a concern and whether reddish or brownish). According to health professionals, most bleeding in pregnancy (antepartum hemorrhage) can be corrected provided the women seek early clinical intervention and if provided, they can carry the babies to term.

Severe headache that never goes down even after enough rest or after taking a painkiller as a first aid. In such situations, it is advisable that the pregnant woman goes to the hospital and not to a prayer camp for attention because such headaches in pregnancy can lead to pre-eclampsia (fitting or convulsion) which is one of the principal causes of maternal death in Ghana. One wonders how a prayer camp can detect proteinuria (protein in urine) and arrest the situation timely to forestall stillbirth, maternal death or both.


Oedema (swelling) of the feet, hand etc. The myth around this in some communities is that it is a sign that the pregnant woman has a twin gestation or she is carrying a male baby in utero. In clinical terms, this is a danger sign in pregnancy that must be thoroughly investigated and its negative consequences prevented to save both the mother and child. This is not a spiritual matter so prayer camps do not have any principal business whatsoever dealing with it. They can only pray for pleasant outcomes and leave the rest for the clinicians to handle. God is omniscient so even from the stomach of the fish, he listened to Jona.

Severe lower abdominal pain (LAP). This also needs to be checked with dispatch at the hospital so as to forestall a miscarriage. It is an obstetric emergency and not a prayer topic.

Losing liquor (water) when the pregnancy is not yet to term or when the expected date of delivery (EDD) is far ahead is equally a danger sign in pregnancy which no prayer camp should fake a spiritual solution for. The foetus or unborn baby lives in an environment surrounded by liquor so losing liquor prematurely can lead to what is called oligohydramnios which can cause problems in the fetus (e. g. growth restriction, limb contractures, death, delayed lung maturation, inability to tolerate labor etc). Causatively, oligohydramnios may stem from uteroplacental insufficiency, drugs, fetal abnormalities, or premature rupture of membranes. How can a prayer camp save a woman in this situation? Remember that God didn't strike the Red Sea Himself for the Israelites to cross, Moses did so, acting upon God's directives. Certain actions must be taken by man for God to support so man must not wait for God to act in every situation.

Extreme tiredness, breathless and blurred vision constitute another danger in pregnancy because they can be symptoms of Anaemia (a deficiency of red blood cells or of haemoglobin in the blood), or Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH) or something else. Anaemia in pregnancy for example, can affect both the mother and the unborn baby hence it is advisable that the woman goes to the hospital when she experiences those symptoms.

 As noted earlier, pregnancy and its complications do have negative effects on both the mother and the foetus (the unborn child). It is for this reason that the dangers in pregnancy must be taken seriously and early medical interventions provided once the danger signs are noticed or experienced.

 It is important to reiterate that the danger signs in pregnancy are numerous and what one pregnant woman experiences is different from what the other goes through hence it is often difficult for non-medical or non-midwifery professionals to diagnose or decipher what is actually wrong with the pregnant woman let alone give the most appropriate treatment.

Prayer Camps must, therefore, stay away from handling pregnancy complications because doing so will lead to stillbirths or maternal deaths or both and it is sinful to kill someone. An institution's modus operandi must be in tandem with its mission hence prayer camps must focus on spiritual matters. Spiritual matters are different from physical or clinical matters so the butterfly must not think himself a bird. The Holy Spirit gives different gifts to different people, so the Bible tells us. A pastor or Prophet must not pretend to be a Midwife or an Obstetrician.

Even at the hospital, doctors do not diagnose most pregnancy-related complications with clinical judgment but rather with the help of diagnostic tests such as laboratory tests or ultrasound tests etc.

As indicated earlier, the danger signs in pregnancy are numerous and vary from person to person depending on the individual's immune system. Some of the signs may also be constitutional symptoms which may not relate to the pregnancy alone but to something else which only professionals can detect.

Unfortunately, instead of going to the antenatal clinic or the hospital, most Ghanaian pregnant women prefer the services of prayer camps and Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) thereby putting both their lives and the lives of the unborn babies in danger. The sad thing is that they end up getting to the hospital when it becomes too late for any clinical intervention to be made to save the baby, the mother or even both.

It is worth reiterating that all the foregoing danger signs in pregnancy need clinical treatment and not fasting and prayers at a prayer camp. It must be noted that even in the Bible, it is recorded that Midwives and Physicians attended to some of the holy people recorded in scripture. In fact, the first person to die maternal death in the Bible was Rachel, daughter of Laban and one of Jacob's wives (Genesis 35:16-20). Rachel died immediately after giving birth to Benjamin and it was a Midwife - and not a Priest as it then was -, who delivered her of the baby. So how can today's believers or pastors pray to overcome danger signs in pregnancy when God had already made us in His holy image and gave that gift of saving lives to us through the Midwives and Doctors? Are not being more Catholic than the Pope?

About two years ago, a pregnant woman visited one of the renowned hospitals in Accra and she was attended to. For some obvious reasons, she was scheduled for Caesarean Section (CS) on a later date but a Pastor at a prayer camp advised her against the CS and gave her holy oil to take, instead, so that she gave birth normally. She equally fasted and prayed against the CS. Eventually, she went to the same hospital vomiting the holy oil and it was too late for the doctors to save her. She died a preventable death all because a certain pastor demonized CS and painted it as a bad omen to the pregnant woman. Such unfortunate occurrences permeate the healthcare delivery system in the country.

The ironic situation is that prayer camp owners sneak to the hospitals either for medical treatment for themselves or for their loved ones but deceive other people against medical care.

In a way, however, some frontline clinicians are equally to blame for losing the pregnant women to the prayer camps. Some frontline health workers are not friendly and some are over money conscious, demanding huge sums of money from the pregnant women even in the era of free maternal Healthcare policy implementation by the public health facilities in Ghana. Some clinicians even refer the patients to their private hospitals as a money-making venture and not an upward continuation of care. This must be dealt with in any serious attempts to attain SDG #3 by the year 2030.

Perhaps the laws of the land need to be enforced strictly to clamp down on the prayer camps that have been elevated to maternity homes. Until then, it is equally advised that the health facilities should collaborate with the prayer camps, organize trainings for them and encourage them to refer cases to the hospitals. The impediment here however is that most of the people who need the maternal health services are brainwashed to the extent that they may end up at another prayer camp even when they are referred by one prayer camp to the hospital.

I dare say that prayer camps constitute a major socio-cultural barrier to accessibility and effective utilization of maternal health services in Ghana especially in rural and urban-rural settings in the country and this must be tackled head-on.

To my mind, the pregnant women who access the services of the prayer camps are being fooled to death. A person is fooled in two ways. The first is to accept what is false as the truth and the second is to refuse to accept what is actually true.

What is the worth of a prayer camp ("the house of God") if it cannot collaborate effectively with the health facilities to save the lives of pregnant women and unborn children? It is sad that no matter how they are enlightened and despite the fatal ramifications of danger signs in pregnancy, some pregnant women still prefer TBAs and prayer camps to the hospitals. Such a choice resonates perfectly with the saying that the forest is shrinking, but the trees keep voting for the axe because its handle is made from wood, and they think it is one of them. Perhaps few of the trees left will later face the stark reality that the axe is not actually for their welfare after all. It is all a matter of time.

Dear woman, whether you were pregnant before or not, be advised that it is the same God that gave the requisite knowledge to the Doctor and Midwife to save your life and that of your baby during pregnancy. Every good gift comes from the Lord God Almighty.

Honourable women, you are pivotal to family life so make wise decisions during pregnancy and go to the hospital for care no matter what.

Asante Sana!