I’M rarely angry (or I’m very good at hiding it), but listening to a radio interview recently I felt the sort of anger that, if I were a violent person, might have left me with a bloody, broken hand and glowering at a smugly unblemished wall. The reason I was so angry?
The man being interviewed was a bishop who claimed he could cure HIV/AIDS. But of course his holy service is not free. His followers have to pay up to R15 for his miracle cure, which comes in the form of a bottle of water.
Now, we’re not short on quacks, charlatans, fake healers and snake oil merchants in this country. Walk into town and you’re bound to be assailed by flyers offering everything from miracle cancer cures to nocturnal visits from money-bearing rats. Most of us (hopefully) realise all that stuff is nonsense and is best taken as comedic relief.
But we also live in a country with many desperate people in search of a miracle, and it’s blood in the water for those quacks, charlatans, fake healers and snake oil merchants. Someone who claims to have a cure for a disease which has caused physical and emotional devastation to millions of South Africans is playing with people’s lives.
It is a known fact that our country has the highest incidence of HIV infection in the world and that we have one of the largest antiretroviral (ARV) treatment programmes. In villages, towns, cities, townships and farms, people are confronted by the reality of HIV every day. Hospital wards are filled with people seeking help as the virus lays waste to their bodies.
Every day people watch as friends and relatives wither to skin and bone. And every day there are people coming back from the clutches of death to regain their health as a result of ARV treatment. Today, almost 30 years after the virus was discovered, scientists tell us that there is no cure.
While ongoing research shows signs of a breakthrough in prevention, its too early to tell if a cure is in sight. In the meantime, the trend towards irresponsible claims of faith healing and away from proven treatments for AIDS related illnesses runs the risk of compromising the individual health of people living with HIV—in particular those on the economic margins —while also undermining efforts to expand access to effective treatment to those who need it.