HARARE – Prophet Walter Magaya, leader of the Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries, has been fined $700 by a court in Harare after admitting to distributing and marketing a purported HIV and cancer cure which had not undergone regulatory approval.

The 36-year-old was convicted on Tuesday morning after entering a guilty plea to a charge of contravening section 40 (1) of the Medicines and Allied Substances Control Act which criminalises the distribution or advertising of unlicensed medicines.

Magaya, whose church services attract tens of thousands of devotees who believe he can perform miracles, was arrested in November last year after claiming during a Sunday service that he had found a cure for HIV and cancer.

The purported cure, he claimed, had been clinically trialled in India and had been “chemically proven, scientifically proven.”

Magaya told his followers the purported cure came from a plant called Aguma, found in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Patients who took the cure, which had been manufactured into tablets and capsules with the help of a partnering Indian company, had their immune system “boosted” within 14 days to a point where their CD4 count goes up by 200 percent, suppressing the HIV virus that causes AIDS before it eventually disappears.

The CD4 count is a test that measures how many CD4 cells you have in your blood. These are a type of white blood cells, called T-cells, that move throughout your body to find and destroy bacteria, viruses, and other invading germs.

When the CD4 count drops below 200, a person is diagnosed with AIDS. A normal range for CD4 cells is between 500 – 1,500. Usually, the CD4 cell count increases when the HIV virus is controlled with effective HIV treatment.

Prosecutors said before the claimed cure had been put through verifiable clinical trials, and without the approval of the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ), Magaya had illegally put the drug up for sale on a website of his company called Aretha Medicines.

His lawyer, Everson Chatambudza, told Harare magistrate Rumbidzai Mugwagwa before sentencing that Magaya had “apologised for his conduct”.

But the lawyer insisted the drug had been clinically tested, and Magaya stood by his claims that it was a cure for HIV.

“The drug was tested in India and proved efficient before the announcement was made. The accused only made a mistake by skipping protocols, but the word that there’s a discovery still stands,” Chatambudza said.

Pleading for a non-custodial sentence (he faced up to two years in prison), the lawyer said Magaya had “apologised to the whole world on November 1, 2018.”

“He wrote to the permanent secretary (Ministry of Health and Child Care) apologising for his conduct, showing he was remorseful hence reducing his moral blameworthiness. He tried to comply with the law. Three days prior to the announcement, he wrote to the ministry and notified them of the discovery and his intention but he never got a response,” the lawyer added.

Police swooped on Magaya’s church on October 31 and found evidence that his employees had tried to destroy evidence of ready-for-sale drugs. Some pills had been binned, and investigators had also recovered drug-making equipment.

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a lentivirus that over time causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). It was first clinically observed in 1981 in the United States. The initial cases were a cluster of injection drug users and gay men with no known cause of impaired immunity who showed symptoms of pneumonia, a rare opportunistic infection that was known to occur in people with very compromised immune systems.

According to the World Health Organisation, 70 million people have been infected with the HIV virus and about 35 million people have died of HIV. Globally, 36.9 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2017.

A cure for HIV has never been found, although researchers have discovered medicines to keep the disease suppressed and stop it from developing into full-blown AIDS.