Pastors at some Pentecostal churches in Kenya are trying to heal those who have been infected with HIV by confiscating the anti-retroviral drugs they need and conducting prayer services for their betterment instead. In addition, the patients are being charged a fee so that they can benefit from such healing prayers.
According to Religious News Service who covered the incident for Washington Post, this state of affairs is worrisome because the concerned patients are likely to grow resistant to the drugs if they fail to take them in a timely manner. Over time, their condition will worsen and taking these drugs at a later stage will not serve the purpose they were intended for.
This kind of conflict between science and religion surfaces from time to time in several African societies, especially when they have to treat incurable diseases like AIDS.
Pastor Joseph Maina of Agmo Prayer Mountain, a Pentecostal church in the suburbs of Nairobi, believes that people can be healed from the worst kinds of illnesses including cancer and HIV with the help of prayers. He elucidated how the church tries to heal HIV infected patients but denied asking them for any money. However, he added that the patients are free to leave behind donations if they like.
Jane Nganga, coordinator of the Kenya chapter of INERELA+, an international network of religious leaders who deal with HIV infected people, has a different take on the issue. According to her, the clergy should encourage HIV infected patients to take appropriate medicines and seek psychological support for the same. INERELA+ has documented 2000 cases of miracle cures across Kenya. According to their reports, at least 10 patients undergo such treatments in Nairobi every month.
When the victims were asked for their point of view, they said that the pastors’ offering a cure seems like a viable option because they are scared of being stigmatized by society and rejected by family. They also believe that this desperate measure is easier to deal with as compared to a lifelong drug regimen.
Margaret Lavonga who had a “near-death experience” during a healing prayer service a few years ago said that she was extremely desperate to be cured when she and some other women found out that they had been infected with HIV. After undergoing the prayer service, the women were taken to a clinic where a test declared that they were free of HIV and all their drugs were burned. Following the treatment, each of them had to pay $36 as fee. After this incident, Lavonga started to support the pastors’ miracle cure and crusaded for them through the slums in Nairobi. Initially, she felt better but within a fortnight, Lavonga started falling sick. She underwent a test again, only to find out that she was still infected with HIV and this time the virus had multiplied a few times because she had stopped taking the necessary drugs.
Earlier this year, the Kenyan Daily Post reported an incident where a pastor made an emaciated HIV positive boy parade on Kiss TV, a local television channel, while asking viewers to donate 310 Kenya shillings so that he could carry out miracle prayers for the boy.
Quite naturally, the Kenyan audience was outraged. They accused both the pastor and the television channel of exploiting impoverished locals and demeaning HIV infected patients as though they had no human dignity.