People living with HIV being misled by bush doctors, some pastorsWednesday, December 01, 2021
BY ARTHUR HALL
SOME pastors and herbalists are negatively impacting Jamaica's ability to win the fight against HIV/AIDS by encouraging their followers and patients not to take prescribed medication.
Non-governmental organisation Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), which has been at the forefront of the island's HIV response for past 30 years, is leading the effort to have Jamaica meet the UNAIDS targets for 2025 (95-95-95).
The aim is for 95 per cent of those living with HIV to know their status, 95 per cent of those who know their status to be on treatment, and 95 per cent of those on treatment to be virally suppressed.
But Kandasi Levermore, executive director of JASL, says unwanted interventions from some religious leaders and natural healers are stymieing the organisation's efforts.
“We still have a problem with churches, especially the non-traditional churches, which are telling people that they are healed. We have seen cases like that and we have seen people die because 'Pastor say mi healed and I mustn't come for treatment,' “Levermore told a recent Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange.
“We are still seeing that, and every time Jamaicans act like it's new… people are still staying away from care because, whether it is the church or the medicine doctor — 'the bush man' — gives them alternative treatment, we are still seeing some of that.
“The truth is that it is not a large number, but we are still seeing that in today's day and age,” added an obviously peeved Levermore.
The JASL's claim of pastors telling their flock to depend on spiritual healing and not take the recommended medication to treat HIV comes weeks after news broke about happenings inside Pathways International Kingdom Restoration Ministries in Montego Bay, St James, where its then spiritual leader Kevin O Smith convinced his members that he could heal them from most illnesses.
Two people were killed in the church, allegedly at the instruction of Smith, who reportedly told one congregant that after her throat was slashed he would raise her from the dead.
Smith, who was arrested by the police, died in a motor vehicle crash while being transported to Kingston to be charged with murder.
On Monday, head of Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew, Reverend Devon Dick, told the Jamaica Observer that he was surprised to hear of pastors telling their congregants not to take traditional medicine to control HIV.
“I have never heard anybody saying that, but if somebody has said that it would be irresponsible and they would have to show the evidence of where that has worked. They would need to show the data,” he said.
“Prayer and medicine are not mutually exclusive, and if they are saying that they are praying for the person, that is good, but it is not to say that they should not take medicine that has proven to be effective and safe,” added Rev Dick.
“Sometimes there are people who are pushing a certain line, which we can recognise is not consistent with how they treat other illnesses. Take, for example, COVID-19... you not seeing those same people saying they are going to be touching people and heal them. What should work together is that you pray for persons and they take the medication that is safe and effective. I have no problem with people who believe in folk medicine, if the folk medicine has proved to be effective,” added Dick.
In the meantime, Anglican priest, Father Sean Major-Campbell, expressed sadness that people who most need informed guidance and direction are usually the ones who do not accept this, and they are the ones who are easily led astray.
“Many of their unfortunate listeners are also readily impressed with magical thinking and assumed superhuman powers on the part of their pastors. I would suggest that people be guided by the professionals when it comes to matters of health care and medical advice,” Major-Campbell told the Observer.
“In the meanwhile, pastors would do well appreciating the gifts of intellect and the capacity for reason in service of humanity and to the glory of God,” he added.
The main treatment for HIV is antiretroviral therapy, a combination of daily medications that stop the virus from reproducing. This helps protect CD4 cells — a type of white blood cell — keeping the immune system strong enough to take measures against disease. Antiretroviral therapy helps keep HIV from progressing to AIDS.