Over the last two decades, there has been two tracks on HIV cures: the scientific track, which has not been very successful, and the ethno-religious track, claiming a long series of successes, none of which have been substantiated. Africa is a leading producer of faith-based and herbal remedy HIV cures. The BBC reports
this week that faith healers in England -- apparently of African origin -- have been claiming to make HIV-positive persons test HIV-negative through prayer. One of the groups involved is the Synagogue Church of All Nations
(SCION) in Nigeria, whose website includes YouTube videos of believers being healed of various diseases and conditions through the miraculous workings of faith healers. In England, these sorts of groups are accused of telling HIV-positive persons to stop taking their antiretroviral therapy; three deaths were attributed to these practices of Evangelical Christian groups last year.
The relationship between ethno-religious cures and Africa is an curious one. Africa is the origin of HIV, and though it is not rational, there is some sense of shame there, that this should not be seen as an 'African product'. I remember people in the DR Congo claiming that HIV could not have come from their country: it must have been snuck in from Rwanda or Cameroon. There is also a persistent rumor in Africa that HIV came totally from the outside, from the leading powers of the world, as a diabolical plot to depopulate the African continent. In this context, the idea of an indigenous, non-scientific African cure for HIV becomes very tempting, a delicious thought. After all the high-tech, heavily funded biomedical struggles of powerful and affluent nations to find a cure, the answer comes from something local, homespun, either natural in the form of herbal concoctions, or supernatural in the form of African religiosity. If that was the case, it would be an incredible coup.
Unfortunately, that is not the way it is. In the English case, it looks much more like religious quacks taking advantage of and endangering the well-being of HIV-positive persons, as well as those with other illnesses. British health authorities are unwilling to comment on the matter for fear of alienating religious sensibilities. But they should. Religious organizations, just like secular ones, should come under the scrutiny of the law if their practices seriously threaten the health of its adherents.
Labels: Africa, bioethics, HIV, HIV cure, religion