AT least five people died in Bulawayo in the period leading to the 2019 festive season following indications that they had discontinued taking Antiretroviral medications at their prophets’ orders, HealthTimes has learnt.
By Michael Gwarisa recently in Bulawayo
The revelation came into the open when members of various HIV and AIDS support revealed that they stumbled upon stashes of Antiretroviral treatment drugs in the deceased’s’ rooms while some had publicly confessed that they had been ordered to stop taking their medications by their pastors and prophets.
National Aids Council Bulawayo Provincial Manager, Mrs Sinatra Nyathi told HealthTimes that cases of people living with HIV and on ART discontinuing their medications for religious reasons were rampart and she urged ART clients not to stop taking their medications for whatever reasons.
Remember, when someone is on ART, the ARVs are responsible for suppressing the viral load to levels where we don’t want it to be detectable in their blood stream. So if you don’t take your drugs, you are actually giving the virus the chance to multiply and most of the time when the person’s virus has multiplied to those levels, most of them they will not make it.
“That is why we have got a challenge to say people are going to the prophets and faith based organisations and say prophet so and so prayed for me and I threw away the drugs. A lot of people have died actually, over Christmas I heard about four or five people that I knew that threw away their drugs and they died and it’s unfortunate because these people had been on ART for a long time. We really want to focus on campaigning to our people living with HIV to say please don’t throw away your drugs no matter how much you have been prayed for,” said Mrs Nyathi.
She added that one of the deceased was a health worker at Mpilo Hospital and when he died, members of his support group recovered a card-box full of ARV drugs meaning he was collecting the drugs religiously but not taking them.
“Our communities need to know that you need to take your ARVs correctly and consistently, that’s why we talk about adherence to treatment. We also need to talk to faith based organisations to say please continue praying for the people but don’t tell them to stop taking the drugs.
“There is nothing wrong with prayer but take your drugs and if you are to be discharged from your drugs let it be done by the doctors who initiated you on the medications and not by prophets or anyone.”
Meanwhile, NAC has embarked on a media campaign in Bulawayo to raise awareness on issues of ART adherence as well to tackle the issue of religion and its role in the management of HIV.
Zimbabwe has registered a decline in the number of new HIV infections as well as the HIV prevalence owing to various efforts by government and partners to advance HIV related programs to affected communities. However, claims by men of the cloth and church leaders to cure HIV and AIDS could derail these gains and give birth to an even worse health situation such as HIV drug resistance among other health complications.