LONDON

BBC

Some young HIV patients are giving up their medicine after being told by Pentecostal Church pastors to rely on faith in God instead, doctors warn.

Medical staff told the BBC a minority of pastors in England were endangering young church members by putting them under pressure to stop medication.

Healing is central to Pentecostalism, a radical belief in the power of prayer and miracles. But one pastor denied people would ever be told to stop taking their medicine.

The Children's HIV Association surveyed 19 doctors and health professionals working with babies and children in England; its members had reported hearing anecdotal evidence of HIV patients deciding to stop taking their anti-retroviral drugs because their pastors had told them to do so.

Among 10 doctors who said they had encountered the problem in the last five years, 29 of their patients had reported being put under pressure to stop taking medicine and at least 11 had done so.  The doctors and health professionals reported a variety of cases: Some said they had dealt with parents who felt under pressure to stop giving their young children their HIV medicine - and some had actually done so

Others were breastfeeding mothers with HIV who refused the medicine that would stop the virus being passed onto their babies and some were young people, making the decision for themselves.

The healthcare workers also reported that some patients had been told by their pastors they would be healed by prayer or by drinking blessed water. Sixteen-year-old Oliver (not his real name) said he was told by a pastor to swap his HIV medicine for a plastic bottle containing water that would heal him.

He said many others had come under the same pressure.

"I've been to other churches where... the pastor stands forth there, and he says 'come take this water... if you drink it for this certain amount of days, you are going to be healed'," he said.

Later, after his mother had experienced what he believed was a miracle cure, Oliver stopped taking his medication, and his condition quickly deteriorated.  He has since gone back on his medication and said he believed he needed to combine his drugs with his belief in faith healing.