Call her Steria Chifundo to conceal her real identity because she lives with HIV.
Had a community action group not combed her area, looking for people who had abandoned their anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs, she might not have lived to tell her story.
Her tragedy—which started with a prayer by a pastor who visited her village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kuntaja, Blantyre—saw her being dragged to a health centre. She was too frail to walk by herself.
“There were overnight prayers in our village and I was in attendance,” she recounts. “The pastor asked whoever was sick to come forward. Since I was on anti-retroviral treatment [ART], I stepped forward. After praying for us, the pastor told us all that we had been healed and ordered us to stop taking drugs.”
Rooted in her faith, the devout Christian substituted the life-prolonging drugs with prayer, convinced that opportunistic ailments that were bothering her had vanished.
Sessions of faith healing are prevalent in most Pentecostal ministries.
They believe that faith in God can heal all ailments, including the Aids, which has no known cure.
However, Steria’s wasting demonstrates that such belief is inaccurate.
She recalls: “Five months after discarding the ARVs, things got worse for me. People could see that I was not alright. A friend asked me what was going on and I told her that I had stopped taking the drugs.
“She told me I had made a deadly mistake and needed to go to hospital for remedial action. But I was so scared to go. I feared that clinicians would shout at me. I fell critically ill. This somehow dissolved my reluctance to seek treatment. I was taken there in that state.”
Steria’s story may have irked health personnel, but her health has improved tremendously since she resumed ART.
Now, she speaks of her “deadly mistake” with energy and verve.
In March, she offered her testimony when the National Aids Commission (NAC), which leads and coordinates the national response to HIV and Aids, brought together faith leaders affiliated to the Pentecostal and Charismatic Network of Malawi (Pechanoma).
Most faith healers in attendance confessed endangering lives by emphasising on prayer alone as a solution to all ailments.
Their acts fall short of the standards of miracles performed by Jesus Christ, in whose name they supposedly heal the sick.
In Matthew 8:4, Jesus, whom Christians worship as the son of God, referred a leper he had just healed to a priest to ascertain that he had indeed been cleansed.
But none of the clergypersons in attendance indicated that they referred those they had healed to medical doctors to ascertain their situation.
A simple verbal pronouncement is what led Steria into the experience she would not forget.
But she is not the only one.
Angella Malemia (not real name), from T/A Somba in Blantyre, has a similar story.
The only difference is that she fell pregnant after quitting treatment. Her health deteriorated in no time, she says.
“I do not want to be in that situation again. After being reintegrated on treatment, I am taking them religiously. If anything, prayer should complement the treatment,” she explains.
Prophet Rex Kalolo, a medical doctor who founded Altar of Liberty Church of All Nations, agrees that medical and spiritual healing must go hand in hand.
“We believe in miracle healing,” he says. “But we do not have to substitute prayer for treatment. We need to emphasise on both instead of replacing medical treatment with faith healing.”
Kalolo finds it amusing that some religious leaders who tell the sick to stop taking medication “actually eat when they are hungry”.
“If faith is the solution to everything, why do they eat when hungry?” he asks.
The prophet wants faith leaders to take the lead in encouraging the faithful to always take their medication instead of discouraging the sick from adhering to their dosage.
Pechanoma president Apostle Willie Chaponda asks Psentecostal and charismatic leaders to emulate Jesus’ example by referring patients to skilled medical personnel.
“If indeed you believe that you have healed someone through prayer, why would you bar them from going to the hospital afterwards? Faith healers should allow people to access medication as we all do when we fall sick.”
The author is Corporate Services/Public Relations Officer for National Aids Commission, writing in his individual capacity.