Pastors at some Pentecostal churches in Kenya are conducting prayer services to “cure” patients infected with HIV, confiscating their anti-retroviral drugs and charging a fee for their healing prayers.
The new trend is especially worrisome as patients may become more resistant to the drugs when their conditions worsen and they want to resume taking them, Religious News Service reported for the Washington Post.
The effectiveness of science versus religion in combatting HIV and AIDS continually divides many African societies.
“I believe people can be healed of all kinds of sickness, including HIV, through prayers,” said Pastor Joseph Maina of Agmo Prayer Mountain, a Pentecostal church on the outskirts of Nairobi. “We usually guide them. We don’t ask for money, but we ask them to leave some seed money that they please.”
Jane Ng’ang’a, who coordinates the Kenya chapter of INERELA+, an international, interfaith network of religious leaders living with or affected by HIV, has different ideas.
“We [clergy] must demonstrate leadership in this area,” she said. “We should be in the forefront, encouraging adherence to the medicines, as we offer psychological and mental support to those infected and affected.”
INERELA+ reported that 10 people a month on average undergo pastors’ “miracle cures” in Nairobi. They have documented 2,000 such cases throughout Kenya.
Victims say that desperation and fear of being stigmatized and rejected by family make the pastors’ offers of cure by prayer seem appealing. It also seems easier than sticking to a lifelong drug regimen.
“We were very desperate after realizing we had been infected as young women,” said Margaret Lavonga, who almost died after attending a healing prayer service several years ago.
She and other subjects were taken to a clinic for a “test” that declared them HIV-free, after their drugs were burned and they paid a $36 fee. Lavonga crusaded with the pastors throughout Nairobi’s slums, talking up the miracle prayer cure.
“I was upbeat, but after two weeks I started falling sick,” Lavonga said. “When I was tested, the virus was still in me and had multiplied since I was not taking the drugs.”
The Kenyan Daily Post reported on an incident this August in which a pastor paraded an emaciated HIV-positive boy on Kiss TV, a Kenyan television channel, asking for viewer donations of 310 Kenyan shillings, or $3.58, before he would pray for the boy. Kenyans were outraged, accusing the pastor and TV channel of “exploitation” and the “filthiest injustice of human dignity” in their online comments.