At least 2 637 people living with HIV and Aids (PLHIV) in Balaka have abandoned taking anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) on advice from prophets and pastors, the District Aids Coordinating Committee (Dacc) has disclosed.
Balaka Dacc chairperson Harold Kachepatsonga said the development has negatively impacted on efforts by government and its cooperating partners to contain further spread of the virus in the district.
He made the revelation at Mziza Full Primary School on Sunday during events to mark World Aids Day commemoration.
The Community of Sant’ Egidio’s Drug Resource Enhancement against Aids and Malnutrition (Dream) Programme organised the commemorations to sensitise the people to the need to strengthen efforts aimed at achieving zero new infections, zero Aids-related deaths and zero discrimination against people infected or affected by the pandemic.
Kachepatsonga said faith leaders, who prevent their members from taking ARVs need to be condemned for orchestrating the deaths of unsuspecting believers.
“If their prayers are really curing the diseases, why has the health of those who stopped taking ART deteriorated? In fact, others have been escorted to their early graves because their pastors and prophets wanted to gain fame from false prophecies and sermons,” he emphasised.
The Dacc chairperson—who disclosed that the infection rate for the district stands at 11 percent—appealed to Christian and Islamic mother bodies to start censuring pastors, prophets and sheikhs on messages they give to the flock regarding HIV and Aids.
Sub-Traditional Authority (S/TA) Chanthunya confirmed that his area has registered an increase in HIV-related deaths in the recent past, especially among those who discontinued taking anti-retroviral therapy.
He, however, commended Dream Programme for its comprehensive approach to the fight against the pandemic in the area.
“Your efforts have greatly improved the health of those who are taking ARVs religiously. I wish this project could have covered the whole district,” he said.
Dream Programme manager Francisco Zuze warned that discontinuation of antiretroviral therapy (ART) may result in viral rebound, immune decompensation and clinical progression.
Zuze said with funding from the Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), his organisation has engaged all relevant stakeholders in scaling up provision of ARVs, care and support to children and families infected or affected by the pandemic.
“This project targets to strengthen community capacity to provide complementary psychosocial support (PSS) and community home-based care (CHBC) to 850 children and families affected and infected by HIV and Aids in the district,” he disclosed.