Prayer Camp And HIV Treatment
4/14/2012 12:30:28 PM -
Emma steps out slowly from one of the little shacks of the 'Refuge Prayer Camp' located in a secluded environment at Lashibi Klagon, near Sakumono, a suburb of Tema.
She walks at a snail's pace to sit close by the church building located in the camp. Emma looks frail and her thin body shows signs of a prolonged ailment.
'The sickness comes on and off,' says Emma, an HIV/AIDS positive.
She has been infected with the disease for about five years and has now found solace in the prayer camp which for her was the last resort for the treatment of her sickness.
'When she came in October, 2011, her body was swollen and she couldn't walk', says Rev. Emmanuel Amenuvor, founder of the camp.
Emma lived on constant prayers without any medication at the camp. But after months of prayer with no signs of any improvement, Rev. Amenuvor, suggested she takes an HIV test.
'She tested HIV positive after we convinced her to take the test,' Rev. Amenuvor says.
He explains that Emma's situation is improving after she was put on Anti-Retroviral (ARV) medication and still continues with her prayers at the camp.
'My swollen body is gone and I can walk on my own,' Emma says. 'She is improving,' adds Rev. Amenuvor.
Dr. Richard Amenyah
In previous years, Rev. Amenuvor believed evil spirits influenced the infection of non-communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS and thus instead of medical treatment he prays for such people who come to him.
'Formerly, when we hear a person is HIV positive we think the person is devilish or has been attacked by an evil spirit,' he says.
He says his prayer camp held prayer meetings for people with various health conditions and accommodated more than two hundred people who come to him for help.
Rev. Amenuvor however notes that while some of the cases improved with the prayers, others worsened.
'When we pray and their condition gets worse we send them to their homes and finally they die,' he says.
Nonetheless the death of some of the people he prayed for (whom he believes had HIV/AIDS) did not deter him from holding on to his earlier conviction.
But Rev. Amenuvor's turning point came when his pastor friend, Rev. John Azumah and his wife, got infected with the HIV virus.
'I was shocked,' he says.
Rev. Amenuvor explains that they thought it was spiritual so they prayed but Lydia Azumah's (Rev. Azumah's wife) condition got worse.
'The more we prayed, the more her condition kept getting worse,' he says.
Rev. Azumah, now an HIV/AIDS ambassador, advocating voluntary counselling and testing, says after moving from one hospital to the other with his wife in search of treatment, she did the HIV test which revealed Lydia was HIV positive.
He also tested positive but his children were negative.
'It was a shock. I asked a lot of questions. God, why did you punish me like this? What have I done wrong?'
He says his wife went to a prayer camp located in the Volta region for her to be healed based on the advice of his in-laws.
'That was where my wife almost died,' says Rev. Azumah. 'At the prayer camp they believed in prayers only and she did not take any medication.'
Lydia also an HIV ambassador says she felt weaker and down. She says she was sometimes made to fast and called at night to be prayed for during her four-and-a-half month stay at the camp.
'Gradually, I was falling down, I could not even do anything, I could not walk, eating even became a problem for me,' she says.
When Rev. Azumah could no longer bear the sight of his dying wife, he took her from the camp to the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital where she was placed on anti-retroviral treatment.
Her condition began to change and improve as the days went by and Rev. Azumah was also placed on medication.
Now their conditions have improved with Rev. Azumah having a CD4 count of 900 while Lydia has a CD4 count of 800.
CD4 tests are not direct HIV tests. The CD4 count is used to assess the immune system of patients. Patients often undergo treatments when the CD4 count reaches a level of 350 cells per microlitre; less than 200 cells per microlitre in an HIV positive individual is diagnosed as AIDS. Medical professionals also refer to CD4 tests to determine efficacy of treatment.
Amenuvor says after his own pastor friend and his wife tested positive, he got to know the HIV virus was not a demonic thing.
'I don't share that idea anymore because I now believe HIV/AIDS is a virus that can be contacted and treated,' says Rev. Amenuvor.
HIV/AIDS Prevalence Rate
There are 222,000 people living with HIV in Ghana says Dr. Richard Amenyah, Director of Technical Services at the Ghana Aids Commission.
Out of the total population, 32,000 are children with 58 per cent representing women between the ages of 15 and 35 years.
Seventy-two thousand people have become orphans through the death of their parents who were HIV positives.
Dr. Amenyah says the HIV situation in Ghana is currently stabilizing with a prevalence rate of 1.5per cent in the adult population.
He adds that there are pockets of high prevalence among certain geographical areas and sub-populations.
'Ashanti region has the highest prevalence rate of 3.2per cent,' Dr. Amenyah says.
However, the prevalence is rising in the Western region with the oil find. 'Increased economic activities and more population mean more sex,' he says.
Sex workers in 2006 had a 38 per cent HIV prevalence but have reduced to 25 per cent between 2008 and 2009.
Men who have sex with men (MSM) also have 25 per cent HIV prevalence rate. 'They are a priority for us,' Dr. Amenyah says.
Voluntary Counselling And Testing Stigma
Dr. Amenyah says not many Ghanaians know their HIV status. 'Uptake of HIV testing services is quite low,' he adds.
According to the demographic and health survey of 2008, only 4 per cent of the male population accesses HIV testing services as compared to 7.8 per cent in the female population.
He attributes the reluctance of the population to access the HIV testing services for voluntary testing and counselling to the threat of being stigmatized.
'People keep HIV a secret because of this,' says Dr. Amenyah.
Lydia says they had to leave their community when she disclosed her status because people called her children 'AIDS children.'
'Most sellers would not take money from the family because they thought they would be affected,' Lydia says.
Rev. Azumah says he has the stiffest stigmatization from his family and colleague pastors at church.
'My family and my church are where the problem is now,' he says. 'Some pastors will call me and say I am a disgrace to the kingdom of God. My family members also say that I am disgracing them by coming out to declare that I am HIV-positive.'
Rev Azumah is however not perturbed by their actions: he still campaigns for voluntary testing and counselling.
His advocacy helped change the perception of his friend, Rev. Amenuvor.
Rev. Amenuvor now educates his congregation and those who come to him for prayers against stigmatization and the need for voluntary counselling and testing.
He says although his attitude towards his friend's family has not changed, some of the members of his congregation still hold on to their perception that HIV is a demonic virus.
'Not all of them have accepted it but we are doing our best,' Rev Amenuvor notes.
Dr. Amenyah says until the major factor that hinders people from getting tested (stigma) is addressed, the issue cannot be fully solved.
He says the elimination of stigma against HIV positive persons will get more people to undergo voluntary testing and counselling and help meet the commission's target of eliminating mother-to-child transmission by 2015.
He says about ten babies are born every day with HIV. Seventy-five percent of the annual 3, 000 babies born with HIV die before one year and another 50 per cent die before two years.
He says the forty per cent mother-to-child transmission can be reduced to less than two percent if (HIV) pregnant women get voluntarily tested.
'Drugs are available,' says Dr. Amenyah. Government has subsidized anti retroviral drugs at GH ¢ 5 per a month for the treatment of HIV.
The government has also pledged ¢150 million for the support of the national Aids plan.
The ministry of health has also given a directive that nobody should be turned away if they cannot pay for the drugs.
'If you don't have the money, nobody will deny you,' Dr. Amenyah says.
The country currently has 65,000 people on HIV drugs but Dr. Amenyah says it is not significant as a lot more people need to be covered.
'We need to put 110,000 on medication by 2015 that would be 85 percent coverage.
He says with the provisions made by the government to make HIV treatment affordable and accessible, 'It's unacceptable that people should be dying of AIDS today when there are anti-retroviral drugs.'
He debunks the assertions of some herbalists who claim they have 'concoctions' that can treat HIV. He says people opt for such treatments because they are in denial and do not want people to know they are HIV infected.
'If the person has HIV they should not tell them to stop going to the hospital. They should counsel the person to have access to the drugs so the person can live healthy,' says Lydia.
Rev. Azumah says the treatment of health issues such as HIV should not be entangled with the supernatural.
He says people should not be afraid to go for the voluntary testing and counselling or health facilities to be treated because HIV is a health and not a moral issue.
'HIV is a virus and not a moral issue. Pastors should be very careful how they blend it (with the spiritual).'
He says an HIV positive person can live for years on the ARV.
Dr. Amenayh says it is only anti-retroviral medication that keeps HIV positive persons alive.
'It is only anti-retrovirals that can keep you alive. I think we need to hammer home this message very strongly.'
By Jamila Akweley Okertchiri