AIDS patients in Zambia are abandoning their life-prolonging drugs in exchange for “cures” that have hit the market in recent weeks, according to information from a leading AIDS advocacy group reported Monday, March 19, by the AFP news service.
“We want to express serious concerns about this situation,” said Mirian Banda, chair of the Network of Zambian People Living with HIV/AIDS (NZP+), said of reports that some of its member have stopped using their anti-retroviral medications and turning instead to fake cures that are being promoted in the media.
“As people living with HIV/AIDS, we request government to provide the public with proper information and guidance around the supposed cures,” Banda told AFP.
A weekly newspaper in Zambia recently published a story claiming that a cure for AIDS had been discovered in the U.S., and that the newspaper’s editor was an “authorized dealer” of that cure in Zambia.
A traditional herbalist also recently appeared on a live radio program claiming that she had found a cure for AIDS, and that her patients were no longer taking antiretrovirals.
The Zambian government announced in February that three herbs that had been touted as cures for AIDS were ineffective, as proven by a six-month clinical trial.
“Zambia has already seen numerous examples of claims to cure HIV, all of which have proven to be untrue, confusing, and regrettably lethal, since they draw HIV positive people away from proper ways of dealing with their status,” Banda told AFP.
She said there are 75,000 HIV-positive people in Zambia who are taking anti-retroviral medications, and another million others are infected with HIV.
In January, the president of the tiny nation of Gambia, located on Africa’s upper east coast, claimed that his ancestors had come to him in a dream and revealed the cure for AIDS.
Yahya Jemmeh, 41, is a former army colonel who has no formal medical training, although he claims his family has a history of healing people through traditional African medicine.
In a report published online on Saturday, March 17, CNN described Jemmeh’s cure as a “murky brown concoction of seven herbs and spices.”
The report, by Jeff Koinange, said Jemmeh refused to speak to CNN, that medical reports of HIV/AIDS patients claimed to be cured by the “medicine” were not provided, and that the Gambian government refused to release a sample of the “cure” to CNN for testing.
Gambian Health Minister Tamsim Mbowe, a trained physician with multiple medical degrees, swore “100 percent” to CNN that Jemmeh’s herbal “cure” “has the potency to treat and cure patients infected with the HIV virus” and that Jemmeh’s “herbal medications” ability to cure AIDS “have been proven within all medical and laboratory parameters.”
And patients taking the concoction said they have had “amazing” results, with one may saying he has “ceased to have any HIV symptoms.”
But, Koinange’s report said, these patients’ claims are “difficult to verify” and the government provided no scientific evidence to support Mbowe’s or the patients’ claims.
But many health officials, including the U.N. envoy to Gambia, told CNN Jemmeh’s “cure” offers only false hope, and that it could harm people’s health if they trade in their anti-retroviral medications for the “herbal cure.”
Fadzai Gwaradzimba, the U.N. envoy, was kicked out of Zambia on Feb. 9 after saying that people with AIDS should stay on their anti-retroviral medications and that Jemmeh’s concoction should be “assessed by an international team of experts.”
The World Health Organization and Professor Jerry Coovadia of the University of Kwa Zulu Natal in South Africa are also among those questioning the veracity of Jemmeh’s “cure.”
“For a country’s leader to come up with such an outlandish conclusion is not only irresponsible, but also very dangerous,” Coovadia told CNN, “and he should be reprimanded and stopped from proclaiming such nonsense.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, March 23, 2007.