The ceremonies begin with a “miracle blessing” of the HIV-infected person. Afterwards, the pastor burns the person’s anti-retroviral medications and declares them “cured.” Then the church charges the person a fee and sends them on their way.
“I believe people can be healed of all kinds of sickness, including HIV, through prayers,” the Washington Post quotes Pastor Joseph Maina of Agmo Prayer Mountain, a Pentecostal church located just outside of Nairobi. “We don’t ask for money, but we ask them to leave some seed money that they please.”
But this isn’t entirely true. Reports that people have given their life savings for the so-called “cure” have begun surfacing.
Margaret Lavonga told the Washington Post she was required to pay $12 just to be accepted as a candidate for the miracle treatment, and an additional $24 after it had been completed. The pastor then confiscated her meds and set them on fire. Afterwards, she was sent to a clinic for a “test” that confirmed she was HIV-free.
“I was upbeat, but after two weeks I started falling sick,” Lavonga is quoted as saying. “When I was tested, the virus was still in me and had multiplied since I was not taking the drugs.”
INERELA+, an interfaith network of religious leaders living with or affected by HIV, reports that an average of 10 people per month undergo the miracle treatment in Nairobi. Their documents show as many as 2,000 total cases in Kenya as a whole.
In a country where HIV is still heavily stigmatized, many people turn to the so-called “cure” out of fear or because they don’t want to follow a lifelong drug regimen. But quitting treatment can be dangerous as it can cause a person to become resistant to the drugs. It can also lead to death, which has been the case for many individuals. Four people who participated in the healing ceremony with Lavonga died within a month.
“The patients do not actually get healed,” Gabriel Amori, who works for INERELA+ in Uganda, told the paper, “but they try to believe they are to prove they have faith, even if there is no clinical proof.”
It’s estimated that 1.6 million people are currently living with HIV in Kenya. So far, the government has not taken any action to stop the pastors from promoting the bogus cure, despite the thousands of people who have been hurt or who have died as a result.