The Gambian dictator, Yahya Jammeh, continues to insist that he has a cure for HIV/AIDS. While people outside Gambia might think he is a lunatic and that his claims are bizzare and should be ignored, many sick people in Gambia take him seriously. They are trooping to the state house to receive ‘free treatment’ with no proof of efficacy or effectiveness from his ‘Excellency’.
Shortly after he announced his cure for AIDS, Jammeh gave a journalist access to his ‘quack healing session’ at the government house in Banjul. In response to questions by the journalist, Jammeh revealed himself to be a ‘presidential health care disaster’, a bloated, ignorant, shameless charlatan who ‘toys’ with the health and lives of the people of his country.
At a point during the interview, when the journalist showed some reluctance towards drinking the concoction he prepared, Jammeh laughed like a typical comedian, saying ‘This is Africa’.
Yahya Jammeh must be told to his face that the sham and shameful drama he’s staging, the dangerous precedent he is setting in Gambia, does not represent what Africa stands for. Africa is not a theatre of absurdity, insanity and inanity. It is not a continent where woo woo medicine is presented and brandish as “Africa”.
Jammeh, who came to power in 1996 through a military coup, has repeatedly declared that he could cure HIV/AIDS(on Thursday) and Asthma (on Saturday)using natural herbs with some banana and peanuts and by reciting prayers and some verses from the Koran. He has refused to reveal the ingredients he used in preparing some of the concoction. Jammeh had no medical training. He claimed to have inherited the ‘healing power’ from his father.
There is no evidence that Jammeh has inherited any form of healing power from anybody. He is a ‘quack doctor’ who is taking advantage of the situation of poverty, disease and poor medical care in his country. During his ‘healing session’, he carries a copy of the Koran and his muslim beads to attempt to give the process some legitimacy and credibility in the eyes of the majority muslim population in the country.
Jammeh's cure claims have been dismissed by medical experts globally. And many people are particularly concerned that Jammeh’s reckless and irresponsible cure claims could undermine efforts to combat the AIDS pandemic in Gambia and in other parts of the region.
And indeed their fears and concerns are not misplaced.
Between 2007 and 2011, I visited Gambia several times. And during my visits I tried to find out about the efficacy Jammeh’s cure claims. I contacted some people living with HIV/AIDS to find out if there was any one who had been cured by ‘His Execllency’. But there was no one. In fact there was not even a single person who said he knew someone who was cured by ‘Dr Jammeh’. Through a local NGO that worked with people living with HIV/AIDS, I met a woman. She was HIV positive and was on anti retroviral drugs. But she stopped taking her anti retroviral treatment in order to receive the presidential AIDS “treatment”.
Some weeks later she went for a medical test and found out that her viral load had increased. She stopped going for Jammeh’s treatment and continued with her anti retroviral drugs. The father of another lady I spoke to wasn’t so lucky. The father was asthmatic and went to Jammeh for treatment but died some weeks later. And ‘President’ Jammeh sent the family some cash and food stuffs as condolence. It is difficult to know the number of people who must have died since Jammeh came out and started administering his unsubstantiated and quack cure claims.
In Gambia there is lack of freedom of expression. Most Gambians are afraid of saying anything critical of the president or whatever the president does. So those who are critical of Jammeh’s cure claims are reluctant to speak out. They fear they could be victimized. A UN official in Gambia was told to leave the country after she expressed doubts about Jammeh’s cure claims.
Those of us who are concerned about the spread of HIV and AIDS and woo woo medicine in Africa should speak out against Jammeh’s cure claims and supposed treatment. Evidence, as always, is key and Jammeh has none.
Leo Igwe is a skeptical activist in Nigeria and a former representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. He is partnering with the JREF to respond in a more organized and grassroots way to the growing superstitious beliefs about witchcraft throughout the continent of Africa.