Zimbabwe: Faith Healing Puts Young People Living with HIV at Risk. 21/10/2015

Published at Key Correspondents.Org

Written by Samantha Nyamayedenga

12 October 2015


Faith healing can have a huge impact on adolescents living with HIV with many defaulting on their medications after being told they have been healed spiritually. 

Imagine you are on lifelong antiretroviral treatment and suddenly you are assured you do not have to worry about treatment any longer. You have been taking medication that raises a lot of eyebrows, so much so that sometimes you are not confident to take it in public. Imagine being told that your struggle can come to an end: all you have to do is have faith and you are healed. Would you say ‘no’ to such an opportunity? 

Being an adolescent itself is a piece of work, dealing with the physical and emotional changes which happen during this time. Living with a chronic ailment such as HIV imposes an extra burden. Maintaining adherence to antiretroviral drugs at this stage can be difficult because of fear of stigma and drug side effects. Adolescent life is filled with many activities and the responsibility of having to take medication every day at the same time can be burdensome. Therefore there is a chance that adolescents living with HIV will accept the easiest way possible to make them free from medication. This is where faith healing comes into play.


Defaulting on medication 

Africaid is an organisation in Zimbabwe that has been supporting children and adolescents living with HIV, to help keep them safe and confident, since 2004. Counsellors for Africaid have seen how adolescents living with HIV have stopped taking their antiretroviral drugs after being promised that they have been healed by religious prophets or traditional healers.

“I am not sure about the specific statistics of children who have defaulted under Africaid’s Zvandiri programme. However I can assure you that some of our children have defaulted on their medication due to faith healing,” says Charity Maruva, who is one of the Africaid Zvandiri counsellors.

Edna (not her real name), a peer counsellor from Harare, Zimbabwe, spoke about cases of faith healing she had come across, when providing psychosocial support to peers living with HIV.

She spoke of children who were forced into faith healing by family members. “Some of these children are being taken to different religious cults, at one time, in order for them to be healed. Their conditions are deteriorating day by day, each time I pay a visit to some of them,” Edna says. 


Take and believe 

Another counsellor, who asked not to be named, spoke about the impact of faith healing on some of the children within support groups. She spoke of how Africaid lost beneficiaries due to HIV-related illnesses caused by non-adherence. 

In 2010, the organisation embarked on a campaign to address non-adherence caused by faith healing. The counsellor says: “The name of the campaign was ‘Take and Believe’. After some of our children died, we carried out discussions in all our support groups.

“We encouraged the children to continue taking their medication even after being healed. We also discussed that the coming of antiretroviral drugs itself was a miracle from God. Therefore they should take their medication and believe that they are being healed by God through antiretrovirals.” 


Science versus faith

 However Emmanuel Ranganai, a youth leader of a Christian church in Harare, Zimbabwe, believes that science is at war with faith and that what seems real to a person of faith might seem unrealistic to a person of science. He said faith healing had once cured him of an asthmatic condition. Emmanuel however emphasises that faith healing depends on each individual and cannot be taken as a national practice.

He says that before a person stops his medication, he should confirm that he has been healed with a doctor. “You know in the Bible, when people suffering from leprosy were healed, they were told by Jesus to go and show themselves to the priest. It still remains the same. If you know that you have been healed go and confirm with the doctor.”


Working with faith communities

 It is vital to make sure that adolescents living with HIV are getting the right information about the importance of adhering to their medication. Without this, faith healing will continue to have a negative impact, if the young person believes they can stop taking antiretroviral drugs.

In order to do this, organisations involved in the HIV response need to work with churches to get the right information across. UNAIDS is strengthening its partnership with faith-based organisations and is encouraging young people living with HIV to take leadership roles in local faith communities and find ways to challenge misconceptions about HIV*. The World Council of Churches has also called for churches to provide accurate information about HIV and AIDS.

In Zimbabwe, Africaid is working with local churches to address the issue. Charity Maruva says: “At the moment, we are carrying out campaigns in church and making videos with church leaders who encourage viewers to go for testing. We are also carrying out campaigns in schools and are developing information materials and pamphlets to educate adolescents on treatment.”


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