Dilemma of a congregant living with HIV Aids

HARARE - “With my strong faith, I never had a second thought, I believed the prophet when he said he could ‘cleanse’ me  of HIV and I stopped taking ARVs.” Margaret Mazwi, 38, a mother of four, who is openly living with HIV Aids said.

False hope on faith-healing is all too common among many Christians living with HIV who believe desperately that their prophets can heal them.

With the emergence of a new crop of Pentecostal churches and also faith in the old apostolic churches — many living with the disease which for now has no known scientific cure fancy their chances at church.

Medical experts often complain that churches are “killing people” as they instruct them to stop medication often with dire consequences.

At a workshop recently, the Zimbabwe National Network of People Living with HIV (ZNNP+) executive director Dagobert Mureriwa said people living with HIV need to follow their medication plan because “If someone who is on ART stops taking their medication, the virus will multiply and weaken their immune system.

“Eventually, their health will deteriorate further, leading to death. We have lost lives and continue to lose more people.

“We encourage people to claim their health rights and adhere religiously to taking ARVs as prescribed by health officials. ARVs are medications for life,” said Mureriwa.

For Mazwi, a staunch apostolic church member, disclosure of her HIV status was difficult because it came out from the blue and was followed by stigma something that forever changed her life.

Mazwi’s health problems began in 1998 when she gave birth to a baby girl who fell very sick and died five years later.

“The prophets at my church told me that the baby would die and for sure it happened. It was very painful. No mother wants to see her child die”

After her daughter’s death, Mazwi’s health continued to deteriorate and she turned with renewed gusto to prophets.

“I sought help from the clinic and was diagnosed with HIV/Aids in 2006 and immediately started taking Antiretrovirals (ARVs).

“I remained active in my church and was also part of the faith-healing system itself”.

Mazwi remembers when she was informed about her status. “I was hurt, scared and could not believe it. I said, ‘No, not me. I didn’t have multiple partners, I didn’t party, I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke.’ I wondered, why? Why me God? It was very difficult” she said.

After taking ARVs, Mazwi’s health became much better, but she was torn on whether to disclose her status to fellow members of the church who for the main part were conservative.

Mazwi’s faith grew stronger and she eventually disclosed her status.

“I was feeling healthy and strong on my ARVs and one day during a church service decided to disclose my HIV status.

“A prophet in my church said I had the ‘spirit of the goblin’ in me that others call HIV.

“I never gave a second thought on this and everything that the prophets at our church said since they had correctly predicted the death of my daughter.

“The prophet added that it was my faith keeping me strong not the ARVs and that I should stop taking them as he could ‘cleanse’ me of HIV,” she said.

Mazwi said she was given muteuro — a concoction that resulted in her getting sick. In the few months that followed, she even got worse and developed sores on her privates.

“I could see something was  terribly wrong with my health. I then decided to go to the clinic where they took my CD4 count which had dropped to only 115.

“I received counselling and was immediately put on ART. The nurses cautioned me never to skip taking my ARVs.

“For some time I began feeling much better after resuming my ARVs but I started doubting the prophet who later said my grandmother was to blame for the goblin,” she said.

But the prophets at her church blamed her for having little faith and attributed her deteriorating health to that.

However, she chose to ignore them and in 2007 Mazwi discovered that she was pregnant, and because of the counselling she had earlier received, this time she enrolled on Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) programme.

This, she says was against the church doctrine that required all women to book their pregnancies at the church and not the clinic so that they give birth at the Kirawa (church shrine).

“My husband and I had to make a quick decision and finally decided that I could not register at the church.

“I  knew if we made an unwise decision, I could lose my baby. It was a difficult decision that the church elders did not take lightly, so me and my family left the church” she says.

Mazwi’s husband, Jefrey who is also living with HIV said he is glad to have his wife back and healthy again.

“I know God still answers prayers because my wife is a living miracle. I couldn’t imagine her not being here at this time in my life.

“Though we had all these ups and downs, we are living happily and we will have an opportunity to see our children getting married and have grandchildren”

Today, Mazwi is glad that she is living positively and has healthy children who are all HIV negative.

Now she is ZNNP+’s focal person and peer educator for Harare Province and drawing from her experience she is inspiring many.

Mazwi also works with a support group in her new church where she advises others to come in the open.

“I have since joined a new Pentecostal church where I help others living with HIV.

“We discuss our challenges and encourage each other never to stop taking medication.

“There is no cure for HIV Aids, prophets must not mislead people. For example because I am on ART, if I go for testing, my viral load may be undetectable, that does not mean I am HIV negative.

“This is the mistake that other people make and give testimonies that they had been faith-healed.”

Mazwi blames today’s prophets for pursuing money at the expense of congregants.

“With HIV, I may be spiritually healed in that I have been able to accept my status and to live stress free, but I am not physically healed because the HIV virus still runs in my blood.”


Comments (6)

why not carry on taking your ARVs and only when your medical practitioner confirms to you that you are clear of HIV should you stop taking your ARVs

sanli2 - 28 July 2016

why not carry on taking your ARVs and only when your medical practitioner confirms to you that you are clear of HIV should you stop taking your ARVs

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