The “cure” is not free, and some people say they shell out their life savings to receive a miracle blessing and quit taking the drugs.

“I believe people can be healed of all kinds of sickness, including HIV, through prayers,” said Pastor Joseph Maina of Agmo Prayer Mountain, a Pentecostal church on the outskirts of Nairobi. “We usually guide them. We don’t ask for money, but we ask them to leave some seed money that they please.”

But the controversial ceremonies are raising red flags as believers’ conditions worsen, and a debate has opened over whether science or religion should take the lead in the fight against the AIDS epidemic.

The issue is not new for African societies that have grappled with similar matters, such as whether condoms can prevent transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS.