At least three deaths have been reported in London as a result of churches which claim to “heal” HIV and AIDS patients.

According to BBC London, some evangelical Christian churches are encouraging patients to stop taking anti-retroviral drugs because God can heal them.

The programme spoke to two women from east London who said they knew of female friends who had been encouraged to pray instead of taking their medication. Both patients died.

In another case, the director of a leading HIV research centre in east London said she had dealt with a case where a woman died after being advised by a pastor to come off her medication.

Prof Jane Anderson, director of the Centre for the Study of Sexual Health and HIV, in Hackney, added: “We see patients quite often who will come having expressed the belief that if they pray frequently enough, their HIV will somehow be cured.

“We have seen people who choose not to take the tablets at all so sometimes die.”

The Synagogue Church Of All Nations (SCOAN), which has headquarters in Southwark, says it specialises in “HIV-Aids healing”, “cancer healing” and “baby miracles”.

Its lead pastor, T B Joshua, has “cured” at least one woman of HIV, its website claims.

SCOAN responded: “We are not the healer. God is the healer. Never a sickness God cannot heal. Never a disease God cannot cure.

“We don’t ask people to stop taking medication. Doctors treat; God heals.”

HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust has urged people to continue taking medication prescribed by their doctors.

The charity’s head of health improvement, Ben Tunstall, said: “It’s incredibly worrying to hear that individuals have been giving out advice about HIV treatments which is putting lives at risk.

“We work closely with churches across the UK, raising awareness of HIV and encouraging people to get tested and start treatment at the earliest possible stage, and we urge anyone living with HIV to continue the treatments prescribed by their health professionals.

He added: “Our myhiv.org.uk resource provides accurate and detailed information about HIV and treatment options, as well as community forums where people living with the virus can ask questions and gain support on anything related to HIV.”