In the 21st century, HIV/AIDS remains a major global public health issue. WHO statistics indicate that more than 70 million people have been infected with the HIV virus and about 35 million people have died of HIV since the beginning of the epidemic.
Kenya has an average HIV prevalence rate of 6% and with about 1.6 million people living with HIV infection, it is one of the six HIV ‘high burden’ countries in Africa. The western part of the country through Homabay, Siaya and Kisumu are the most affected with HIV rates of 25.7%, 23.7% and 19.3% respectively.
It is a pandemic that has evaded a cure. Due to its complex nature and structure, locating and quantifying the amount of virus within a patient’s body has proved to be a big task in medicine.
Business is ‘good’ here
People living with HIV are among the most desperate. This desperation plus the stigma towards the victims makes them easy targets for a range of supposed miracle workers, including internet scams.
In many Cities in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, the big, imposing evangelical churches have a huge magnetic force attracting the sick from the villages in search for cure.
Among the most well-known faith healers in Africa is TB Joshua, who runs the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Nigeria, and whose popularity has earned him a multi-million-dollar fortune.
This man prides himself in his claims of having cured people of AIDS and even in bringing the dead back to life. His website is full of testimonies about his apparent powers of prophecy.
In the recent past, there has also been some news in Kenya, with a number of people claiming to have turned HIV negative, allegedly after prayers by Prophet Owuor.
Managers of the Graveyard
There seems to be two groups of the false HIV/AIDs healings. One group of preachers is an extremely foolish and selfish lot. They will bring HIV negative people to give false testimonies of ‘HIV healing’ after prayers on TV. Others will blindfold HIV positive congregants to avoid medication in the name of ‘faith’.
You may think that this is an African disease. But the number of people dying after resisting ARVs after ‘believing’ these preachers is alarming. In October 2011, three women in London died after they stopped taking the life saving drugs on the advice of their Pastor.
The women died after attending a church in London where they were encouraged to stop taking the ARVs in the belief that God would heal them. Its sad that a few weeks thereafter, we buried them.
The False positive results Game
A new bunch of fake HIV healings is now unfolding. These ones are ‘lucky’ to have people who received false HIV positive results when they were first tested.
Generally, HIV tests have high specificity, meaning that there are few false-positive results. But when a person is not infected with HIV but receives a positive test result, that result is called a false positive.
Don’t you wish away the remaining 0.4%. It has turned out to be a big business opportunity in the 21st century!
HIV diagnosis is normally done with rapid diagnostic tests. They are so called because they produce a test result quickly, usually in less than 30 minutes. These are the test kits you will find when you check into the nearest VCT for a HIV test.
Two or three different RDTs may be used at the health facility, according to national guidelines. But these are screening tests—they are not designed for definitive diagnosis.
The Rapid tests work well, but are also known to yield false positive results owing to serological cross reactivity (or inadequate quality control and human error, e.g. mislabelling of specimens).
Known False HIV Positive Cases
There may be very few people openly giving their story of false HIV positive results in Africa, but elsewhere, there are hundreds of cases in the public domain.
The Loma Linda Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Califomia, the University of California, and the San Diego Veterans Affairs Medical Center raised serious concerns of cases of false HIV positive results as early as the year 1993. In a joint address to Organon Teknika Corporation, a producer of ELISA kits for HIV diagnosis, the health facilities noted 3 serious cases of false positive results.
Case 1. The patient, a 38-year-old woman tested strongly positive for the presence of HIV-1 antibodies. It was later confirmed to be a false positive. Further questioning revealed that she had had an outbreak of herpes simplex type 2 infection three weeks before her baseline laboratory evaluation.
Case 2. The patient, a 32-year-old man, had no known HIV risk factors, but he had received the influenza vaccine two months before HIV testing. He also had had hepatitis C infection several years previously. He tested positive using the Elisa test, and was later confirmed to be HIV Negative!
In their response, Organon Teknika Corporation through the HIV Program Director, J. W. D. KAY, PhD admits that despite the manufacturer’s attempts to maintain the highest specificity for HIV tests, there will be occasions when there are biological false-positives.
Dr. Kay asserts that supplemental tests are important in testing algorithms to resolve true- from false-positives.
Well, in resource limited settings, only the screening testing methods are available for HIV tests, and that is how the false positives go undetected. For an ignorant person, further tests are not important after testing positive at a health facility.
John Bryne was tested for HIV at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation site in Miami.
It was a false positive!
“While the test would turn out to be a false-positive, I spent six days believing I’d been infected with HIV. ” says John, who later became Miami’s biggest PrEP promoter.
In yet another case, one Theresa Milah spent days thinking she had HIV.
“The next morning I went to the Health Department clinic and explained my situation. They too agreed and said it doesn’t make sense. The counselor instructed that the tests doctors use aren’t always efficient, as they can be outdated and have room for error.” narrates Millah.
…my doctor confessed, “I don’t know why it came back positive, but you are negative and you do not have the virus.”
False HIV Positive, Negative ‘after prayers’?
We are talking about 40 people getting false HIV Positive results for every 10,000 HIV positive people tested. And that is not insignificant! In fact, this number increases in areas where the HIV prevalence is high.
What this means in a Kenyan situation is that the number of false positives in the western part of the country would be more than 40 for every 10,000 HIV positive people tested.
Does this explain the reason why most of the HIV healing cases are from the Western region?
So these few (but now very valuable) false positive results have now become a huge opportunity for the fake miracle workers to advance their empires.
Of course, every single symptom that is normally associated with HIV infection looks like a symptom of other illnesses. In fact, a huge range of other illnesses. It’s impossible to tell by someone’s symptoms alone whether the problem is related to HIV/AIDS or another medical condition.