Government warns churches over HIV cure claims

Garikai Chaunza, CNS Correspondent, Zimbabwe
(First published in New Zimbabwe)
The government has warned churches led by so-called prophets, against deceiving people that they can cure HIV/AIDS, as this could result in unnecessary loss of life when people living with HIV stop taking their medication. The warning comes after the multiplication of churches led by ‘miracle-performing prophets’ who are using free-to-air television channels to preach and claim that they can cure HIV.

Most of the churches associate HIV with bad spirits, which they claim to be able exorcise. The television programmes feature individuals supposedly bearing testimonies that they have been healed by the prophets. As a result, desperate people stop taking their medication of antiretroviral therapy (ART) and flock to these churches, which were recently condemned by President Robert Mugabe who described their leaders as “fly by night prophets”.

In an interview with in Harare, head of HIV and TB unit in the Ministry of Health, Dr Owen Mugurungi said: “There is no cure for HIV as yet. I hope that churches do not get an excuse to say that people are cured because they are on treatment and have achieved maximum viral suppression.

We know that we can reduce viral load to undetectable levels in the body, but that does not necessarily mean that the virus is gone. The virus will go and hide in the lymph nodes (Mwambabvu) where there is no blood circulation. It will go there and rest; it can rest in the brain as well but at every opportunity it will come out.”

Dr Mugurungi explained this a bit through a simple example: “It does not necessarily mean that when it is raining and you look at the empty streets of Harare that you can say there are no people in the city. People are indoors and they are waiting for the rains to stop and then they come out and start walking. That is exactly what happens with HIV. The good thing, however, is that when the virus is hiding in your body you do not infect anybody. So you will not crush or kill anybody in the street when it is raining and there are no people walking, but when there are people you will have accidents; that is the analogy I can use. I hope churches are not using this to claim they can cure HIV because this suppression requires you to take your medicines every day.”

Not taking medication regularly, according to Dr Mugurungi, is one of the major causes of death among the people living with HIV.
(First published in New Zimbabwe)

Garikai Chaunza, Citizen News Service - CNS 
23 January 2015