Cult practices are found to be responsible for spread of infection in a number of countries.
The number of people infected with Covid-19 continues to skyrocket, with nearly 11 million cases worldwide. In Nepal, the number of infected has crossed 15,000 and there have been over 30 deaths so far. But there is no cure to Covid-19, though human trials of vaccines have started in the UK and the US based on their earlier research on the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). This means that doctors can do little more than offer supportive treatment to the very sick and hope their bodies can survive the infection.
With about 15 percent of Covid-19 patients suffering from severe disease and hospitals being overwhelmed, treatments are desperately needed. Some researchers say that already approved drugs might hold the key to treatment. This includes a drug combo used against HIV, a malaria treatment first tested during World War II and a new antiviral whose promise against Ebola fizzled out last year. WHO is looking for such drugs which have already been approved for other diseases and known to be largely safe. It is also looking at unapproved drugs that have performed well in animal studies to treat SARS and MERS. It is also looking for treatments to be given prophylactically to protect healthcare workers and others from high risk of infection. Treatments may also reduce the time patients spend in intensive care units, freeing critical hospital beds.
WHO has announced a large global trial called Solidarity to evaluate whether potential treatments are effective against Covid-19. Solidarity trial will test four different drugs or combinations and compare their effectiveness to fight the virus. The trial is an unprecedented effort—an all-out, coordinated push to collect robust, scientific data rapidly during this pandemic. WHO is focusing on four most promising therapies—an experimental antiviral compound called remdesevir, malaria medications chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, a combination of two HIV drugs lopinavir and ritonavir, and the same combination plus interferon-beta, an immune system messenger.
These initiatives are unlikely to bear fruits if cult practices are not avoided until the time the countries become able to overcome the Covid threat. Cult practices are found to be responsible for spread of infection in a number of countries.
The spread of Covid-19 can be linked to cult practices in South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, India and Pakistan. In March, a Muslim congregation of over 2,000 people was organized in Nizamuddin, Delhi, by Tablighi Jamaat, a global Islamic missionary movement, leading to the spread of the virus all over India and Nepal.
In Nepal, Muslim Jamati from Parsa and Udaypur were found infected and caused community transmission as well. In South Korea, most Covid-19 cases can be traced to the mysterious Shincheonji Church where one person spread it to the others. Almost 63.5 percent of all confirmed cases in the country were related to Shincheonji. Some of its practices included secrecy, banning of health masks, praying in close proximity, kissing each other’s hands, singing hymns, not caring about worldly things and focusing on conversions even when someone is sick. They feel that getting sick is a sin as it prevents them from doing God’s work. Such behavior defies physical distancing principles.
Tablighi Jamaat attendees believe only in their leader and believe that getting sick is a gift from Allah and dying in a mosque grants them path to heaven. The organization urges Muslims to practice their religion as it was during Prophet Muhammad’s time. This is particularly so in matters of ritual, dress and behavior. Between February 27 and March 1, the movement organized an international religious gathering at Sri Petaling Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This is believed to have resulted in more than 600 Covid-19 cases, making it the largest known centre of transmission in Southeast Asia.
A second gathering was scheduled on March 18 in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Though the organizers initially rebuffed official directives to cancel the gathering, they subsequently complied. Yet another gathering was organized in Pakistan near Lahore for 150,000 people. Despite officials’ requests to the contrary, the participants communed together, leading to the spread of the virus overseas. Meanwhile, the Nizamuddin faction of the Tablighi Jamaat held a congregation there every week of last month till March 21. There were reportedly other violations by foreign speakers here, including misuse of their tourist visas for missionary activities and not observing the 14-day home quarantine. It is believed the sources of infection were preachers from Indonesia. Many returned to their states in India and provided refuge to foreign speakers without the knowledge of local governments and eventually spread it in Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir and Assam.
In Nepal too, Kapilbastu, Nepalgung, Narainapur and Udaypur seem to have become the victims of cult practices.
Clinical experience suggests that certain situational or developmental features make people more receptive to cults. These include high stress levels or dissatisfaction, lack of self-confidence, gullibility, desire to belong to a group and frustrated spiritual searching. Most cult leaders have a narcissistic personality disorder, an excessive need for admiration, disregard for others’ feelings, an inability to handle any criticism and a sense of entitlement. As for the followers, most would be going through a mental crisis and the cult seems to offer relief.
Cult practices pose a threat to further escalation of Covid-19 cases. People should rely on measures such as maintaining physical distance of two meters, wearing masks, washing hands with soap or using alcohol based sanitizer to combat Covid-19.
The author is a treasurer at Central Executive Committee of Nepal Medical Association