FOLLOWING a BBC report this summer that Pentecostal preachers were endangering the lives of young people in the UK afflicted with the HIV virus, news is emerging from Kenya that patients are having their drugs burned by pastors promising “miracle” cures.
In August the BCC said that the Children's HIV Association surveyed 19 doctors and health professionals working with babies and children in England; its members had reported hearing anecdotal evidence of HIV patients deciding to stop taking their anti-retroviral drugs because their pastors had told them to do so.
Among 10 doctors who said they had encountered the problem in the last five years, 29 of their patients had reported being put under pressure to stop taking medicine and at least 11 had done so.
The problem in Kenya, where Pentecostalists hald far more sway over gullible people, is far worse. Around 2,000 people may have given up their anti-retroviral medication and paid preachers for “healing” ceremonies.
The ceremonies begin with a “miracle blessing” of the HIV-infected person. Afterwards, the pastor burns the person’s anti-retroviral medications and declares them “cured.” Then the church charges the person a fee and sends them on their way.
Pastor Joseph Maina of Agmo Prayer Mountain, a Pentecostal church located just outside of Nairobi, said:
I believe people can be healed of all kinds of sickness, including HIV, through prayers. We don’t ask for money, but we ask them to leave some seed money that they please.
But reports that people have given their life savings for the so-called “cure” have begun surfacing.
Margaret Lavonga said she was required to pay $12 just to be accepted as a candidate for the miracle treatment, and an additional $24 after it had been completed. The pastor then confiscated her meds and set them on fire. Afterwards, she was sent to a clinic for a “test” that confirmed she was HIV-free.
I was upbeat, but after two weeks I started falling sick. When I was tested, the virus was still in me and had multiplied since I was not taking the drugs.
INERELA+, an interfaith network of religious leaders living with or affected by HIV, reports that an average of 10 people per month undergo the “miracle” treatment in Nairobi. Their documents show as many as 2,000 total cases in Kenya as a whole.
In a country where HIV is still heavily stigmatised, many people turn to the so-called “cure” out of fear or because they don’t want to follow a lifelong drug regimen. But quitting treatment can be dangerous as it can cause a person to become resistant to the drugs. It can also lead to death, which has been the case for many individuals. Four people who participated in the healing ceremony with Lavonga died within a month.
It’s estimated 1.6 million people are currently living with HIV in Kenya. So far, the government has not taken any action to stop the pastors from promoting the bogus cure, despite the thousands of people who have been hurt or who have died as a result.