You’re in: AIDS at 25 Coverage / 25 Years Later: Money

—Nairobi, Kenya

Lucy Nduta of Salvation Healing Ministry referred to herself a “prophetess.” And she said she could cure a person of AIDS—for a fee. The fee was no small amount, not by Kenyan stan­d­a­rds anyway: 400,000 Kenyan shillings, or roughly $5,500.

Credit: Fredrick Onyango

Nduta, who is now facing six counts of fraud, convinced HIV-positive victims that her prayer would cure them, in what is being referred to by the media as the “cash for prayers” scandal. This is a story that highlights one of the key issues with HIV/AIDS.

While statistics from the Ministry of Health indicate that the rate of HIV/AIDS infection is falling in Kenya, the numbers are no comfort to those already infected, many of whom believe only that they are going to die. Of the science, even rural Kenyans know that despite the advances made in combating this deadly virus, no cure or vaccine is on the immediate horizon. And though antiretroviral drugs are indeed available here, a significant number of infected people still cannot access them, mostly due to the long distances required to travel to health centers distributing the drugs.

Poor public- and private-sector management have significantly contributed to the problems faced by Kenyans. Recently, HIV/AIDS-infected individuals were threatened with the termination of their prescriptions because the Ministry of Health was engaged in a tug-of-war with funding bodies. Overwhelmed by the challenges that they face, superstitious members of the community have been known to seek a “cure” via sex with a virgin, or the mysticism of a witch doctor.

Lucy Nduta profited from her countrymen’s perception that HIV/AIDS is a death sentence. She could only exist in a place where so much fear is met with too little hope.

Joy Wanjiku is a Kenyan journalist who writes frequently about HIV/AIDS.

Originally published August 14, 2006


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