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Pastors pressurise HIV patients, says charity

28 September 2012

by a staff reporter

FAITH leaders in some West African churches in the UK have pressured HIV patients to stop taking their medication and trust in prayer instead, a survey by the charity African Health Policy Network (AHPN) suggests. 

Cases where patients were told by their church leaders to stop taking the anti-retrovirals have been reported in churches in London, Manchester, Leeds, and across the north-west.

The survey found examples of  cases where treatment had been restarted, after faith healing, as well as others where the health and mental health of clients declined, in some instances leading to death. Many of the respondents were reluctant to give the names of pastors or churches involved.

The AHPN, which deals with health inequalities for the African population in the UK, is calling on the Government to do more to prevent faith leaders' encouraging HIV patients to stop taking their drugs. The chief executive of AHPN, Francis Kaikumba, said that churches and religious leaders al­ready did a great deal of supportive work with HIV patients, but that some needed guidance.

"Faith leaders and churches can play a very positive role in the lives of people living with HIV/Aids," he said.

"They are often the first port of call and a source of support and hope. But, in a few churches, these practices exist, and we want to work with faith leaders to monitor what is going on in churches around HIV. We would encourage them to work with clinicians when people approach them to talk about their illness."

The charity has published a list of recommendations for clinicians, local authorities, and churches, urging them to work together. It said: "AHPN recognises that faith plays a crucial role in the lives of many African individuals and is an important aspect of many African communities in the UK.

"Whilst faith intersects positively with health as a source of spiritual guidance and hope for those living with long-term health conditions, faith and HIV can often interact negatively. Not only is the perpetuation of stigma some-
thing that must continue to be addressed by faith communities,
but the issue of transactional faith 'healing' claims are harmful, life-threatening, and should not be tolerated."

The findings of the survey are to be published in full next month.

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