Faith healers and prophets are reportedly telling HIV positive members of the church to stop using their antiretroviral (ARVs) medication and look to God to heal them instead, and this has caused disquiet to pertinent health authorities.
The National Aids Council (NAC) recently raised concerns over the deaths of people with HIV and Aids who stopped taking antiretroviral drugs after being told to do so by clerics.
NAC Bulawayo provincial manager Sinatra Nyathi told the Newsday that the issue was slowing down mitigatory programmes which sought to stem further spread of the disease as well as prolong lives of those infected.
“I was saddened to witness the deaths of about five people who I knew personally who succumbed to the disease after being told to stop medication by their prophets.
“Although Nac has been working with churches in their interventions, there remained a big headache (given) the mushrooming of new churches which are led by these prophets and faith healers.
“We are urging people on antiretroviral therapy (Art) not to throw away their drugs. We are currently raising awareness in the communities,” she said.
Although she could not provide statistics on the number of people who have died after defaulting, Nyathi said any death linked to this was an issue of concern.
She also said while they had nothing against prayer, their worry was on patients being discharged from taking medication in the absence of a qualified doctor.
“We are not saying people should not pray, but patients must continue taking their medication as prescribed by their doctors,” Nyathi said.
Defaulting on Art often leads to viral resistance, treatment failure and increased risks of disease progression.
Last year it was reported that about 4 000 HIV positive people in Bulawayo were on second and third line Art after defaulting from the recommended first-line regimen.
“There is need for further engagement with the faith-based organisations and impress upon them the need to ensure that those on Art are allowed to do so without any interruptions,” Nyathi said.
While is common knowledge that hospital arose as a Christian institution utterly dependent upon Christian principles, doctors and medical unions have of late accused faith healers of spiritualising diseases and encouraging people to dump medication on unfounded claims they had been miraculously healed.
As the promise of miraculous healing mixes with scepticism about the dangers and necessity for caution around deadly diseases, some Christians turn to faith-based treatment rather than medical care.
In 2018 leader and founder of the Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries Walter Magaya was widely condemned for prematurely announcing that he has discovered a spiritually empowered HIV and Aids herbal remedy, Aguma, before seeking government clearance. He was subsequently charged with contravening section 40(1) of the Medicines and Allied Substances Control Act, which criminalises the distribution of unapproved medicines and misleading advertisement of such.
In July of the same year, it was reported that Ebola death tolls in DRC rose alarmingly as patients turned to miracles over medicine.
“Some sick people believe that the Ebola epidemic comes from sorcery—they refuse to be treated and prefer to pray,” said Julie Lobali, a nurse in a hospital in Mbandaka, the city where the two patients died.
Just under a week ago, co-founder of the Texas-based Kenneth Copeland Ministries, Gloria Copeland, also came under fire after she famously claimed that believers should not be afraid of the coronavirus because they have “Holy Spirit flu vaccines”.
Declaring in a video broadcasted on her ministry’s Facebook page last Wednesday, the prominent cleric said:
“Well, listen partners; we don’t have a flu season. We’ve got a duck season, a deer season but we don’t have a flu season. And don’t receive it when somebody’s threatening you with ‘Everybody’s getting the flu.’ We’ve already had our shot. He bore our sicknesses and carried our diseases. That’s what we stand on and by His stripes, we were healed.”
Many people on social media condemned Copeland’s advice which could have dire consequences for those who believe it, while others asked questions about how to activate the holy protection from the flu.
The Kenneth Copeland Ministries has since backtracked from the claims, saying Gloria wasn’t saying believers shouldn’t get real vaccines per se.
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