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Clinical Study Considers The Power Of Prayer To Combat COVID-19


What if people around the world of all major faiths prayed together for the healing of people with COVID-19? A heart doctor in Kansas wants to answer that question scientifically. NPR's Tom Gjelten explains.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: It's called intercessory prayer. The idea is that God can perhaps be called upon to heal a whole set of sick people, 500 people to be exact.

DHANUNJAYA LAKKIREDDY: It has to be a true supernatural intervention.

GJELTEN: Dr. Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, a cardiologist in Kansas City, yesterday launched a four-month COVID-19 prayer study. The plan, identify 1,000 infected people being treated in intensive care units. Five hundred of them will be prayed for. Five hundred won't be. Neither group will know about the prayers, nor will the doctors or nurses taking care of them. Lakkireddy already has a steering committee for the study. The group first has to find hospitals willing to participate.

LAKKIREDDY: We all believe in science, and we also believe in faith. And if there is a supernatural power, which a lot of us believe, would that power of prayer and divine intervention change the outcomes in a concerted fashion? That was our question.

GJELTEN: In four months, the investigators will look at the outcomes - how long the patients were on ventilators, how many had organ failure, how quickly the patients were released from intensive care, how many died. Lakkireddy says he was born into Hinduism but believes in the power of all religions. The prayers will be offered by Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists. The idea of a scientific study of the power of prayer is not new. Some previous studies of patients with heart disease or cancer found slight improvement in patients receiving prayer. Some found no difference. Lakkireddy says he can't explain how people praying remotely for someone they don't know where a group of people would actually make a difference. And he admits his medical colleagues have a mixed reaction to his study.

LAKKIREDDY: I mean, even my wife was a physician herself. She was skeptical, and she was like OK, what is it that you're looking at?

GJELTEN: Lakkireddy says he has no idea what he will find. But he says, it's not like we're putting anyone at risk here. A miracle could happen. There's always hope, right? Tom Gjelten, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.