Authors: David Patient and Neil Orr, November 26 2014 - This article is not about religion itself. Instead, it is about those who say "If you have faith, you don’t need to take your pills". It is also about why this kills people, specifically those living with HIV and those needing to take antiretroviral (ARV) medication every day. To make it worse, this is sometimes followed by claims of having 'cured' HIV using the evidence of an HIV-negative Rapid Test.

To a large extent these people are playing into the ignorance of most people about HIV testing and how it works. Almost without exception, the people 'cured' die within 6 months unless they get back on their medication. The unfortunate part is that educators and even medical personnel don’t know what to say in response to these claims, and so the practice continues. So let's set the record straight...

If you - or someone you know - wants to prove that someone has been cured of HIV, you cannot use a normal HIV Antibody (Rapid) Test to support your claim. You would need to do a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) Test, which tests directly for HIV, not antibodies. Here's why:

The most commonly used HIV tests are Antibody tests. The finger-prick Rapid Test is such an HIV antibody test. Antibodies are chemicals made by the body to ‘handcuff’ a specific germ. Other cells of the body - fighter cells - recognize the antibody 'handcuff', and kill the germ that has been apprehended by the antibody. Each germ needs a custom-made antibody because it needs to fit - like a key and a lock - onto that specific germ. In other words, the HIV Rapid Test does not test directly for HIV. Instead, it tests for the antibody chemical that sticks to HIV, and that is made by the body.

A PCR Test (Polymerase Chain Reaction) for HIV tests directly for pieces of HIV, not for antibodies. If HIV is in the body, even in small amounts, a PCR test will find it, and test HIV Positive.

Most people know about the Window Period, which is the period immediately following HIV infection. During this period - which can be as long as 3 months, but lasts on average 1 to 2 weeks - the body does not realize HIV is in the body. As a result, it doesn’t make antibodies against HIV. So, even although the person has HIV in their body, they will test HIV-Negative on the standard HIV antibody test. However, a PCR Test will - within a day or two after infection - detect pieces of HIV during the Window Period, and the person will test HIV-Positive.

Why do we not use the PCR test more often? Because it costs too much: The PCR tests cost about R800, where a normal Rapid (antibody) test costs about R28. The PCR test is normally only used on babies born to HIV-positive mothers to see if it has got HIV from the mother. In other circumstances, you’d have to pay for it yourself.

But that’s not the problem. After all, a person is not likely to seek healing for HIV while in the Window Period because they would not know they have HIV in the first place.  Apart from the Window Period there are two other situations when an HIV infected person will test negative to standard HIV antibody testing:

The first such situation is when a person living with HIV or AIDS (PLWHA) is in the final stages of their illness (in the AIDS phase of their illness), with a low CD4 count. The immune system becomes so weak (in the absence of ARV’s) that the body just stops making antibodies against HIV, as well as antibodies to other diseases, including TB (tuberculosis). If a standard HIV antibody test were to be done at this late stage of illness the person would test HIV-Negative. This is not a sign of a 'cure' - it is a sign of serious illness and the closeness of death if urgent medical attention is not provided.  However, as with the Window Period, a PCR Test would detect HIV in this situation as well.

It is usually in this specific situation that claims of 'cures' happen: The person was taking ARV medicines and is then persuaded that they should stop the treatment to prove their faith. If they do this, the virus becomes aggressive, and the person rapidly deteriorates to late-stage AIDS, with a very low CD4 count. The body, weakened by the virus, stops making HIV antibodies. The person tests HIV-Negative. A cure! However, within 6 months or a little more, the person dies.

All you have to do is politely ask the 'healer' to prove his (or her) faith by putting his money where his mouth is, and to pay for a PCR Test for these so-called ‘cures’.

There is one more situation where the HIV antibody test sometimes fails: When a person who has been taking ARVs for a period of time. The virus can be so reduced that the HIV Antibody Test (Rapid Test) can result in a weak Positive response. This is sometimes interpreted by the tester as either ‘Inconclusive’ or 'Negative'. Often, this test is done without the tester being told that the person was tested before, and has been taking ARVs. In other words, deception is often involved, leading to a misinterpretation of the weak test result.

That’s the basic science of HIV testing, and the problems with the standard Rapid Test that is used to prove 'cures' of HIV. Whenever you hear about this situation, always suggest a PCR Test, before the person dies from unquestioning faith in some of other healer or prophet.

Let’s be fair: This is not necessarily done with malicious or profit-based intentions. Sometimes, this occurs with the greatest innocence and good intentions. However, all this changes the minute a healer or prophet uses this situation in public marketing or advertising of services or products. That’s when the rules change, as profit becomes the key motivation for communicating this situation. That’s when the law (is supposed to) kick in, and accountability becomes a major issue.

Desperation breeds more desperation, and facts and reason get weaker and weaker. Desperate people get taken advantage of by anyone – who for a fee or donation – demand that the person hands over their last remaining piece of common sense to some or other charismatic (and often wealthy) false prophet. Then, when the person dies, they cover themselves by saying that the person ‘'lost their faith'. It is a highly profitable and fool-proof racket.

If a person were to take a machine gun and randomly shoot at a crowd of people, we would be outraged, regardless of what motive the shooter has. We would demand an arrest, and justice to be served. If they said God told them to shoot, we would recognise them as insane. This is because society defines good and evil in terms of harm caused to others. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not give false witness. Evil is when more harm is caused than good. How is it then that we do not apply this same principle to those who use words, and not bullets, and yet harm as many – if not more – people? Where is the justice?

The argument is that religious faith is not subject to evidence, because it is not measureable. However, if this is the case, then don’t use claims of ‘cures’ due to faith in marketing campaigns: If you profit from the advertised claims, you are accountable to provide valid evidence of that claim. That means paying for the PCR Test, before and after the healing. Don’t worry... God will provide the money, if you have faith. If you can’t get the money to prove your claims, then perhaps you don’t have enough faith. Strange how that works...

A quick search on Google and I came up with at least 4 prophets who all claim they can - and have - cured HIV through their faith healing techniques.  Some even elaborate with their list of remedies, which include drinking concoctions made of methylated spirits plus vinegar and Jeyes Fluid. Another one claims drinking petrol as the solution. Other just say “put down your pills if you believe!”  All of these substances are highly poisonous and harmful. People die, become blind, and have brain damage as a result. And yet it continues, without any accountability of the so-called Prophet.

There are countless other rituals performed in the name of faith and healing: Some of the cleansing rituals include but are not limited to the use of weekly enemas and purging (vomiting). Some others are simply too controversial to mention in this article.

Prophet Walter Magaya of Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries in Zimbabwe claims he has cured countless people, as has TB Joshua of Nigeria’s Synagogue Church of All Nations in Nigeria, and Kenya’s Prophet Owuors, and lest we forget our very own Bishop Hamilton Nala here in South Africa. In fact this upcoming week Nala is doing a mass healing and in his advert, he claims to have healed HIV countless times. All claim they have cured HIV.  Really? So prove it: Cough up the R800 for a PCR test before the ‘cure’ and then another R800 after the ‘cure’. If you have such faith in your ‘cure’ then show the world that money is not the motive …

When we have challenged these claims and ask to speak to the people they claim to have healed, 9 times out of 10, said individuals are no longer with us … they died, but that was due to ‘lack of real faith’ and nothing to do with the healing or advice of the Prophet. They take no responsibility because it’s all God’s will. So easy to pass the buck. So easy to make a buck. So very reluctant to pay out the bucks...

If you think that this article is about religion, it isn’t. It is about ethics, compassion, and accountability. It is about recognising that desperate people, sick people, and misinformed people, are being emotionally abused, physically being harmed, and dying because of placing their unquestioning trust in specific people who financially profit from their desperation. It has to stop. There has to be an accounting for being reckless in the manner in which people are being deceived.

What if your ARV’s are Gods way of showing you that God wants you to live? Are you blindly turning your back on God’s second chance for you by following everything thing these false prophets are claiming? If you do decide to stop with your medications, then get a PCR test done before and after the healing and make the Prophet pay for it. After all, their ‘cure’ is part of their marketing campaign, so they profit directly from these claims. Do you really think they would attract the same number of people to their gatherings if they claimed to cure flu, backache, headaches and sore feet? If their methods are that great then this should not be an issue for them: Let them test their faith and pay for the PCR. If it comes back negative, go ahead... shout their accolades from every mountain.

Author David R. Patient  (MHT) is available for comment at david.patient@empow.co.za
Image credit: lailasblog.com