Easy pickings for Nigeria’s ‘miracle workers’

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TB Joshua

Despair and stigma for people living with HIV make them easy targets for a range of supposed miracle workers, including internet scams, in deeply religious Nigeria. The Times reports that not a month goes by without a Christian pastor announcing that a follower has been “saved”. In Lagos, the commercial capital of more than 20m people, the report says vast and imposing evangelical churches have become a magnet for the sick from across Africa.

Among the most well-known faith healers is TB Joshua, who runs the Synagogue Church of All Nations, and whose popularity has earned him a multimillion-dollar fortune. He prides himself in his claims of having cured people of Aids and even in bringing the dead back to life. The report says his website is full of testimonies about his apparent powers of prophecy.  One on his TB Joshua Ministries page on Facebook is titled: “Aids kicked out with prayer.”

Others also claim to have found the scientific cure for HIV, publishing research in obscure journals. One such assertion, from a professor at an agricultural university in the south-eastern state of Abia, garnered significant coverage in the Nigerian news media earlier this year. Maduike Ezeibe claimed that after 25 years of research, he had successfully tested a drug he had developed on patients. “Nigeria is thus (the) first country to get 10 people (to) recover from HIV/Aids,” he was quoted in reports as saying.

The report says Nigeria’s health agencies condemn such claims on the grounds of the “absence of sound scientific evidence” as well as the dramatic effects on patients if they stop taking conventional treatment. HIV levels can fall to below detectable levels with the help of a daily pill, but rebound when the treatment is stopped. The viruses swiftly reproduces to attack immune cells, exposing the body to opportunistic disease and worsening the risk of infecting others.

“If someone thinks he is cured of the virus when on the contrary he still has the virus, the risk of transmission will be higher,” said Daniel Ndukwe of the National Agency for the Control of Aids (NACA). “We have had people claim they were cured of HIV by miracle healing, and we have also heard of those who later had a deterioration of their health afterward,” he said.

The report says no formal study has been undertaken in Nigeria to explore the phenomenon but there is no doubt that many have seen a market for apparent miracle cures. According to UNAIDS, prevalence of HIV among adults in Nigeria was 2.9% in 2016, which is relatively low compared to countries such as South Africa (18.9%). But the actual number of people living with the condition – 3.2m – is among the highest in the continent.

Emmanuel Ugochukwu Michael, the founder of a match-making agency for people with HIV, says he is regularly approached by people asking for his 7,000-name database. “I receive a lot of calls from traditional doctors and mainly from pastors,” he said. “They invite me for a dinner and promise to pay me money if I provide them phone numbers of my clients,” he added. “It’s a lot of temptation. It gives me a lot of sleepless nights, I can tell you. There’s huge money to be made and everybody wants to take advantage of it.”

The Times report

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