HIV/AIDS ‘Cure’ Promoted by Gambian President Has Increased Use of Antiretrovirals, Reduced Stigma Associated With Disease
An herbal treatment that Gambian President Yahya Jammeh in January 2007 claimed to be a cure for HIV/AIDS has had an "unanticipated" outcome on the fight against the disease in the country, according to some HIV/AIDS experts, IRIN News reports. The experts say that rather than drawing HIV-positive people toward the herbal cure, it has increased the use of antiretroviral drugs and reduced the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
IRIN News reports that not only have individuals who switched to the president's herbal treatment returned to antiretrovirals but also that Jammeh has recently started to modify the language he uses to describe the treatment. An anonymous HIV/AIDS expert in The Gambia said that Jammeh "no longer says people have been 'cured' through it, but instead that 'no virus has been found'" in the immune systems of participants once they finish the treatment. Nevertheless, IRIN News reports that although "there is increasing scrutiny of the president's treatment and its impact among HIV/AIDS experts and people with HIV/AIDS in The Gambia, the subject remains highly sensitive" (IRIN News, 11/3).
Jammeh's treatment, which has been largely condemned by the international community, is applied over several weeks and involves application of a green paste, as well as application of a gray-colored solution splashed on people's skin and drinking a yellowish tea-like liquid. In addition, Jammeh said people taking the treatment should refrain from drinking alcohol, tea and coffee; eating kola nuts; and having sex. The biggest concern among public health workers was that Jammeh asked HIV-positive people to stop taking antiretroviras, which weakens their immune systems and makes them more prone to infections (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/22/07).
Although Jammeh continues to provide his treatment, IRIN News reports that he also is now a supporter of the National AIDS Secretariat, which coordinates clinics, not-for-profit organizations and other groups to provide antiretroviral treatment throughout The Gambia. NAS Director Alieu Jammeh said he considers the president's treatment as "complementary" to antiretrovirals. However, although the treatment has worked to reduce HIV/AIDS-related stigma in the country, Alieu Jammeh said more needs to be done to stop discrimination, particularly among at-risk groups. According to Alieu Jammeh, a national strategy on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment that would achieve basic steps -- such as ensuring the safety of blood stocks once people are tested and monitoring prevalence rates -- is needed. He added that NAS currently is working on a five-year proposal with the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to fund this work. Alieu Jammeh said, "We cannot be complacent. We want to make sure we halt prevalence rates and reverse it" (IRIN News, 11/3).