Berkshire: Charity warns of the need to tackle faith-related HIV deaths

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Over the past few years there have been several deaths within the Berkshire town of Slough, caused by people not taking their HIV medication and stating that God would cure them, a local HIV charity has found.

Thames Valley Positive Support (TVPS) helps more than 500 people living with HIV across Berkshire – and of those 50% worship in church.

As part of a small-scale study, based on the testimony of 14 people, TVPS found that all 14 believed that God created HIV, some thought as a test or challenge to people’s faith.

They also all believed that God created doctors, nurses and medication to counteract illnesses, one said: “Ultimately it is God who has the power to treat me, however in order to help him I take my medication”.

Other responses included: “God said ‘you have to help yourself, then I will help you’. To help yourself is to take medication and go to the doctor.”

There was a lot of strong feeling towards pastors who advise against taking medication.

“My cousin also stopped taking medication and died. Many people I know this has happened.”

Another said: “I know more than 7 people that have died because the pastor said ‘don’t take medication.’”

Sarah Macadam, director of TVPS, said: “We always knew our research may well be just the tip of the iceberg of this complex and very sensitive issue, but it is a step forward in trying to understand why some people take the word of their faith leader and the bible and interpret it in different ways.” She went on to say: “The extremely sad things is that these deaths are preventable. Advances in HIV medication mean this illness is now a manageable one and yet people are still putting their lives at risk because of their faith.”

In 2011, an undercover investigation by Sky News revealed that evangelical churches in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow were telling worshippers that God can heal them of the virus.

The broadcaster sent three undercover reporters to the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), in the south London Borough of Southwark.

All of them were told by pastors they could be healed.