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Patients dying as Finsbury Park pastors ‘tell them not to take HIV drugs’

09:52 28 September 2012

People are being encouraged to abandon their medication.  Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty

People are being encouraged to abandon their medication. Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty

2010 Getty Images

Fundamentalist Nigerian pastors in Finsbury Park are telling people to stop taking life-saving HIV medication and put their faith in the power of prayer, a charity has warned.

The African Health Policy Network (AHPN), in Old Street, Finsbury, is concerned that incidents of faith “healing” are on the rise in the UK, with some faith leaders telling people living with HIV to stop taking medicine prescribed by doctors and instead rely on prayer to “cure” the virus which attacks your immune system.

A survey sent out to organisations across the country revealed how many had heard of such practices, including a community group serving the people of Finsbury Park.

The group said it was aware of Nigerian pastors in the area, as well as Congolese pastors in Tottenham and Ugandan pastors in Woolwich who were advocating faith healing.

More shockingly, the group says they had buried three people who were told to stop taking medication.

They told the AHPN: “I was a family friend encouraging a lady to take medication but the pastor used to come to her home to pray and heal her. Our organisation wrote to the pastor inviting him to attend a debate on radio but he refused.

“We also had a debate with the herbalist doctor [name withheld] who was selling vitamins instead of antiretroviral. Individuals died.

“There are still pastors preaching that they were HIV positive but now they are negative due to healing. Many followers are buying this testimony.”

Jacqui Stevenson, from AHPN is very concerned by the reports.

She said: “We hear of it most in fundamentalist Christian groups.

‘‘In some cases medication is banned altogether, in others it is only drugs to treat HIV that are not allowed.

“In terms of impact on people living with HIV – in the first case if you stop taking HIV medication you can build up a resistance to the medication so in future you might not be able to close that treatment.

“In the longer term, you suffer physical and mental deterioration.

‘‘As people become unwell and the immune system is lowered, opportunistic infection can take hold. It can lead to full blown AIDS and then death.

“The biggest challenge we have is raising awareness. There is not even acknowledgment of the problem and that is very worrying.’’

The report states: “Whilst faith can certainly contribute to spiritual well-being, particularly with a long-term health condition, making a clear distinction between the benefits of spiritual and physical healing is crucial.”

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