African religious leaders from Rwanda, Togo, Burundi and DR Congo and UNAIDS have denounced false prophets deterring HIV-positive people from taking antiretroviral drugs under the pretext of healing by faith alone.
This was at a three-day regional symposium on observing HIV treatment and faith healing in Africa.
The forum, which opened in Kigali on Tuesday, brought together religious leaders, seropositive people, medics, officials from Health ministry, UNAIDS, the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, youth, and community representatives.
The meeting sought to identify and reinforce contributions of religious leaders that encourage adherence to ARVs and challenge the harmful approaches of faith healing, Godson Lawson, the chairperson of World Council of Churches, said.
Participants spoke of the need to identify essential elements for reinforcing capacities of religious and community leaders to encourage HIV testing and adhering to treatment.
“We are also identifying innovative confessional initiatives that have been used so far to promote the harmonisation of medicine and healing by faith in the context of HIV in Africa. The role of religious community must also push advocacy for access to universal access to vital medicament,” he said.
The meeting also examined sacred texts that constitute important resources for religious leaders to challenge negative theological teachings.
The Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Rwanda, the Rt Rev Onesphore Rwaje, said that although there are cases where prayers heal, an assessment is needed to understand the miracles.
“Why would a patient believe in healing by faith alone? If one is healed by prayers, we have to wonder and understand the reasons, otherwise false prophets could impede development,” he said.
Rev. Lawson said a mother in Togo was promised to be healed by faith alone but after giving up taking ARVs, she died.
“Many banal prayers have made some patients abandon ARVs. With testimonies and anthropological research, we realised that once they give up they were not really healed. It happens in Zimbabwe, Togo, DR Congo, among others, where people tell you to pray and drink this water and you will be healed. They should pray but also take drugs,” he said.
The meeting heard that women and youth are the most easily convinced to believe in healing by faith.
Betru Woldesemayat, the UNAIDS country director, said HIV-positive persons should take ARVs and pray instead of believing in healing by faith alone.
“We are working with faith-based organisations to reach community, transform, and shape young people against HIV transmission. They are important in advocacy, awareness, treatment services and changing behaviour of community,” he said.