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Public Health in Sub-Saharan Africa

CIS Seminar Series

Robert Lloyd from Pepperdine University examines the impact of religious beliefs on how health is understood, accessed and delivered in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr. Robert Lloyd is an Associate Professor of International Relations at Pepperdine University.  He also directs Seaver College's International Studies program. He received his Ph.D. from The Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. His areas of research include international conflict management and negotiation, Africa, democratization, and development. Click here for his bio.


Sub Saharan Africa is a large and diverse continent that comprises some thirteen percent of the world's population. By 2050 the United Nations projects Africa's population to double to two billion people and about twenty percent of the world's population. This growth is occurring in a rapidly changing socio-economic context and in a physical environment with a high disease burden. Africans are a relatively religious people. Thus, religious belief is an important element in understanding how Africans understand and respond to these rapid changes within the context of public health. In Africa, three major religious traditions are present: Christianity, Islam, and African Traditional Religion (ATR).

In his paper, Robert Lloyd examines the impact of religious beliefs on how health is understood, accessed, and delivered in Sub Saharan Africa. The paper represents the preliminary assessment of findings from research trips to Mozambique and Uganda conducted between May 2011 and March 2012. These trips were aimed at assessing the role of religious groups in promoting and providing health services and the responses of governments and other organizations.

The preliminary findings concluded that religious belief strongly influences the delivery, procurement, and perception of health. No matter what the religious tradition, all believed that good health is an important value and that modern medicine is a viable means to that end. On the provision side of the equation, both Christian, Muslim, and ATR traditions are actively and extensively engaged in providing health care services. Indeed, in the case of Uganda, Christian health facilities were an important part of the overall health care system in the country. While Christian and Muslim health facilities employ modern medicine ATR health care provision relies on traditional methods.

On the demand side, the religious worldview tends to see health in a broader manner than just the physical body. Traditional Christian and Muslim groups believe that the body may be healed apart from prayer, although they value prayer in the healing process. ATR and Pentecostalist/Charismatic followers, while differing theologically on many issues, both believe that the physical, emotional, and mental aspects of an individual were firmly embedded in a larger spiritual sphere. Thus, physical ailments are manifestations of an underlying spiritual difficulty. This belief has caused some tension with governments when healing through prayer alone is perceived as hindering citizens accessing modern medicine. Finally, the procurement of health is not either/or proposition. Many, if not most, of those surveyed used both traditional and modern medicine.


Chair: Patrick James, Director, Center for International Studies, USC
Discussant: Donald Miller, Director, Center for Religion and Civic Culture, USC