PEOPLE living with HIV (PLHIV) have blamed some prophets and faith healers for the upsurge in the number of people who default from the first line antiretroviral therapy (ART).
After defaulting on first line ART, the patients are enrolled to the toxic and more expensive second or third line of medication.
They said prophets are in the habit of misleading PLHIV to stop taking medication claiming they have been healed of HIV. This comes at a time when statistics from the National Aids Council show that about 4 000 people in Bulawayo are now in the second and third line of ART.
PLHIV are put on a life time ART which they should adhere to daily to suppress the viral load in their system.
Phophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries leader prophet Walter Magaya was recently convicted and fined $700 after he claimed that he had found a cure for HIV and Aids which he called Aguma.
His company, Aretha Medicines, was convicted of contravening the Medicines Control Act after Mr Magaya publicised his unfounded claims without following due process.
The recent botched resurrection miracle by a South African prophet also shows the extent that faith healers are willing to go to deceive gullible members of the public.
In an interview yesterday, Zimbabwe National Network for People Living with HIV (ZNNP+) chairperson, Mr Sebastian Chinaire said:
“We are aware that we still have a number of our own defaulting medication and though 4 000 is too big a number, we are grateful because figures have been decreasing. Our number one enemy towards ending Aids by 2030 remains prophets and faith healers who lie to our members that they should stop taking ART as they would have been healed.”
He said at the moment PLHIV heavily relied on donors for medication and it would be impossible for them to continue getting adequate supplies if they continue defaulting.
Mr Chinaire said there is a large margin between the cost of the first line of ART and other lines, and given the current economic conditions it was safer for PLHIV to stick to first line.
“There is no cure for HIV and Aids hence no one should ever reach a point where they are tricked into stopping medication,” added Mr Chinaire.
“Secondly, our members default when they get results showing that their viral load has reached the undetectable stage. This development trends to make them feel better or healed and they default thinking they are completely cured.”
According to experts, an undetectable viral load only means one does not have enough HIV in their body fluids to pass on to a partner or baby.
A local HIV and Aids activist Mr Dumisani Nkomo said it was undeniable that PLHIV on second and third lines had defaulted.
“One of the reasons why we default is because antiretroviral medication cannot be taken on empty stomachs and we do need food for the tablets to work in the body,” he said.
“The situation could even be worse in rural areas because we have people who would rather skip the daily dose when they do not have any food.”
Mr Nkomo said it was important for the Government and responsible authorities to revive feeding programmes for needy PLHIV.
“We also have people suffering from self stigma who instead of embracing the free treatment choose to default. People should remember that defaulting does not only weaken one’s system but also put loved ones at the risk of contracting drug resistant HIV,” said Mr Nkomo.
Zimbabwe still has a dream of ending HIV and Aids by 2030 and part of the goals entails a majority of PLHIV achieving viral load suppression which comes through adherence to medication.