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Three dead after 'pastors told them to stop taking HIV drug'

FEARS: There is concern that other HIV positive church-goers could have been told to stop taking vital drugs. (Pic posed by model)

ALARMS HAVE been raised over claims that three people diagnosed with HIV, died after giving up life-saving drugs on the advice of their evangelical Christian pastors.

It has been alleged that at least three women promised they would be cured of the virus through the power of prayer alone and no longer needed treatment have since passed away.

The deaths came to light at a focus group organised by the African Health Policy Network (AHPN) as part of their outreach work to tackle HIV/Aids within the community.

A friend of one of the victims, also diagnosed with the condition, told how they had attended church services in London together and were advised to stop taking antiretroviral drugs as a leap of faith, and that God would heal them in reward.

The deaths have since been referred to a specialist research unit at Homerton Hospital, in Hackney, east London.

Francis Kaikumba, AHPN chief executive, told The Voice: “We need to shine the spotlight on this concerning aspect of our community. Many of these evangelical churches are bogus, operating entirely as a business with no regulation.

“Their focus is getting more people through the doors by promising they can cure all diseases. It is very upsetting that they choose to endanger lives this way by telling people to stop taking life-saving treatment just to appear more powerful.”

He added: “The people that fall victim to these bogus churches are often some of the most vulnerable, some of the most socially and economically deprived. Many are single women and for whom the church is how they access their community and community services.”

One of the women, who asked not to be named, told the BBC a pastor told her friend to stop taking her medication - that God is a healer and has healed her.

“This lady believed it. She stopped taking her medication. She passed away.”

Professor Jane Anderson, director of the Centre for the Study of Sexual Health and HIV said she was aware of a similar case.

She told the BBC: “We see patients quite often who will come having expressed the belief that if they pray frequently enough, their HIV will somehow be cured.

“We have seen people who choose not to take the tablets at all, so sometimes die."

Ben Tunstall, head of health improvement at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “It's incredibly worrying to hear that individuals have been giving out advice about HIV treatments which is putting lives at risk.”

Kaikumba said it was time for local authorities to consider regulation of churches in their areas as a means to separate the many bona fide churches from the bogus ones.

At present, people wanting to set up churches do not require a licence, although any organisation that turns over more than £10,000 annually is expected to register with the Charity Commission.

Registering with an accountable body or network is entirely voluntary.

Bishop Joe Aldred, secretary for minority ethnic Christian affairs for Churches Together, said: “If someone in your congregation is sick, the needs of that person must come first.

“To be clear, that should never include advocating they stop any kind of medication that has been prescribed to them unless their doctor agrees.”

The bishop said that regulation of churches was something that had been discussed, but it was generally felt it could infringe upon religious freedom.

He added: “Before attending any church, you should make sure that a pastor has received at least the basic training. Ministers are in a real position of power and must be adequately prepared.”

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