Spiritual leaders and witchdoctors claiming to cure HIV/Aids are bottlenecks in the fight against the pandemic.
Researchers and scientists attending an international conference on HIV/Aids in Kisumu, said some people in rural areas shied away from anti-retroviral (ARVs) therapy and opted for prayers and witchdoctors following advice of spiritual leaders.
Prof Sheikh Niang, a Senegalese, called on African governments to borrow a leaf from Rwanda, which had included spiritual and cult leaders in fighting the pandemic.
Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of reported HIV/Aids cases worldwide, with an estimated 24.5 million living with the disease by the end of 2005.
About 2.7 million additional people were infected with the virus in 2005 alone and more than 12 million children have been orphaned by HIV/Aids.
Ms Mvurilia Nadine, a community health worker in Rwanda, said: “The Government has resolved to support community health workers, who move door to door encouraging patients to continue with their doses,” Nadine said.
Niang told the more than 500 participants drawn from across the globe that Africans were religious, but containing HIV/Aids was an overriding prerequisite.
Cultural practices like wife inheritance also came to the fore. Participants argued it was an African culture, but should only be practised with caution.
“Let us remain religious and maintain our rich culture but know that there is no known shortcut, except ARVs, on prolonging the life of infected patients,” Sheikh said.
National Co-ordinating Agency for Population and Development director, Dr Richard Muga, said testing for HIV/Aids before re-marrying was important. “Sexual intercourse continues in several instances where a spouse dies and leaves another,” Muga said.
Health workers from across the continent said ARVs worth billions of shillings remained uncollected in public hospitals as more infected patients turned to prayers.
Participants concurred that poverty had been the main stumbling block in the fight against the virus until spiritual and cult leaders emerged with their healing gospel.