Why people are often reluctant to seek medical help in Tanzania

What you need to know:

  • Hospitals do not always have the best of reputations and for many, that often serves as a deterrent to seeking medical care.
  • The reasons range from financial all the way to cultural, leaving patients to seek help in the most dire of situations.
  • It all comes down to one factor - fear.

In Tanzania, there persists a pervasive reluctance among residents when it comes to seeking medical care in hospitals, even in the face of illness.

It sounds like a strange thing, the fact that someone is sick but doesn't want to go to the hospital. The question arises - why don't they want to go to the hospital? Life&Style has spoken to various people to give reasons behind these decisions.

Faiza Athumani, 34, a resident in Dar es Salaam, shares her personal experience, underlining the burden of hospital bills and financial insecurity as major deterrents to seeking medical treatment.

"The fear of the financial burden often dissuades me from seeking medical treatment. Hospital bills can be overwhelming, especially for those without health insurance or stable incomes," she articulates.

She reveals: “When my symptoms worsen to the point where they significantly impair my daily functioning, I realise that I can no longer manage them at home. Despite my concerns about hospital bills, the escalating pain and discomfort force me to prioritise my health. That is when I recognise the urgency of my condition such that I set aside my financial worries and seek professional medical help."

For others, long lines and waiting times to what feels like rushed and impersonal care is a factor

To others, long waiting times are the reason behind their reluctance to go to the hospital.

Another Dar es Salaam resident, Audax Humphrey, 42, underscores his frustration caused by long waiting times in hospitals as a major contributor to his reluctance to seeking medical care.

"Speaking from my own experience, the queues in hospitals are notoriously long. It's frustrating having to spend hours waiting for a consultation, only to receive rushed and impersonal care," he remarks.

He went on to say: “When my symptoms persist and intensify despite attempts to manage them at home, I realise that I can no longer ignore the severity of my condition. Faced with prolonged discomfort and a deteriorating situation, I understand that seeking medical care is necessary. It's when my symptoms become unbearable and start affecting my ability to carry out daily activities that I acknowledge the urgency of my health needs and decide to go to the hospital."

On the other hand, inadequate facilities and resources are the reason for some people not going to the hospital.

A resident of Musoma municipal in Mara; Tina Rafael, 28, brings attention to the inadequacy of facilities and resources in certain hospitals, which further deters individuals from seeking medical assistance.

"From what I've observed, some hospitals lack essential equipment and medications. It's disheartening to visit a facility that cannot provide all the necessary treatments that one may need," she notes.

She adds: “Despite these concerns, when my symptoms persist and worsen, even after all my efforts to manage them at home, I realise that professional medical assistance is necessary and I set aside my reservations about the healthcare system's shortcomings and decide to seek treatment at the hospital."

On his part, Naseeb Juma, 50, a resident of Mwanza, articulates his prevailing mistrust in the quality of healthcare services, citing instances of misdiagnosis and negligence as reasons for reluctance to seek medical assistance.

"Speaking from my own experiences, there's a general mistrust in the quality of healthcare services provided in many hospitals. Stories of misdiagnosis and negligence abound, deterring me from seeking help when needed," he shares.

On the other hand, distance and transportation challenges are a nightmare for some people. A resident of Musoma municipal, Vanessa Moses, 36, highlights the logistical challenges of accessing hospitals, particularly for those in remote areas or lacking reliable transportation.

"Based on my experiences, distance and transportation challenges are a nightmare for some. Accessing hospitals can be a logistical nightmare, especially for those living in remote areas or without reliable transportation options. Many opt to endure their ailments rather than face the hassle of getting to a hospital," she elaborates.

Some other people don’t believe in hospitals; instead, they believe in cultural and religious beliefs, which is why they don’t prefer to go to the hospital.

A Shinyanga resident, Peter Baraka, 45, points out the influence of cultural and religious beliefs on healthcare-seeking behaviours, where he prefers traditional healing methods or attributes illnesses to spiritual causes.

"For me, I don’t believe in hospitals. I prefer traditional healing methods or believe that illnesses are spiritual in nature. This preference for alternative treatments reflects my cultural and religious beliefs," he shares.

He says: “However, when my symptoms indicate a potentially serious health issue that cannot be addressed through alternative treatments alone, I confront a moment of reckoning. It's when my condition deteriorates and traditional remedies prove ineffective that I acknowledge the limitations of my beliefs in addressing my health needs."

However, Samira Amiri, 30, a Dar es Salaam resident, underscores the stigma attached to specific health conditions as a significant barrier to seeking medical assistance.

"In my own experience, there's still a significant stigma attached to certain health conditions, such as mental illness or sexually transmitted infections. Fear of judgment or discrimination prevents many individuals from seeking necessary help," she observes.

She reveals: “However, when one’s symptoms become too severe to ignore, they are forced to confront the stigma associated with the health condition."

A medical doctor, Dr Abigail Francis from Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) says she often encounters patients who are reluctant to seek medical care for various reasons.

One common reason is the fear of the financial burden associated with medical treatment.

“Many individuals, especially those without health insurance or stable incomes, worry about the overwhelming cost of hospital bills and may delay seeking care until their condition worsens significantly,” she explains.

She says another factor is the frustration caused by long waiting times in hospitals.

“Patients may feel discouraged by the prospect of spending hours waiting for a consultation, only to receive rushed and impersonal care. This can lead to a sense of disillusionment with the healthcare system and deter individuals from seeking timely medical assistance,” she reveals.

On the other hand, Fr Leon Maziku, a psychologist from Saint Augustine University of Tanzania (SAUT) reveals that one significant factor is fear – fear of the unknown, fear of medical procedures, and fear of receiving bad news about their health.

“This fear can be deeply ingrained and may stem from past negative experiences or cultural beliefs surrounding illness and healthcare,” he says.

He says another psychological barrier is the stigma associated with illness and seeking medical help.

“Individuals may feel ashamed or embarrassed about their symptoms, especially if they are related to mental health or sensitive issues such as sexually transmitted infections. This fear of judgment or discrimination can prevent them from seeking the help they need,” he explains.