In a continent suffering from the AIDS epidemic, Gambian President Yayah Jammeh's claims of a cure for the disease are alarming public health workers already struggling against faith-healers dispensing herbal remedies. The biggest concern is that he requires patients to cease anti-retroviral drugs. Kari Barber traveled to Banjul to see Mr. Jammeh perform his self-proclaimed AIDS treatment and has this report for VOA.
Patients of Mr. Jammeh's HIV/AIDS treatment line up to receive their twice-weekly herbal remedy, as cameras from national and international media snap photos and take video of the procedure.
The patients are at the end of their one-month treatment. Many say they are feeling better.
President Jammeh says he is not concerned about skeptics who say what he is doing is dangerous.
"I am not here to prove to anybody anything," he said. "I am here to treat HIV patients and Gambians for that matter. It is not only HIV/AIDS, but asthma."
"Western medicine says you can not cure asthma; I cure asthma in five minutes. So whether there are doubts, I am not here to prove it to anybody," he added.
President Jammeh says according to blood tests his patients are getting better and some, he says, have been cured.
Patient Lamin Ceesay says he is not getting updates on his blood counts.
But he says he has stopped taking anti-retroviral drugs, or ARVs, which are used around the world to delay the onset of AIDS in HIV positive patients. President Jammeh forbids his patients to take ARVs.
He said, "I am not afraid because I believe, as according to what the president said, that he is certain of his herbal medicine, that he can cure HIV and that if you are on ARVs and you start his treatment, you have to stop them and only use his herbs."
Gambian journalist Demba Jawo left the country last year amid intimidation against independent reporters. He says is not surprised by Mr. Jammeh's claims.
"Knowing the type of person President Jammeh is, I know that he has all of the confidence that he has the cure for this disease, even though he has never been a medical practitioner," he said. "He has absolutely no qualifications as far as medicine is concerned."
Jawo says HIV/AIDS sufferers coming forward are being victimized by their own government, and that they need outside help.
He said, "The role of the international community is to come to the aid of AIDS victims and other Gambians who are sort of being duped into believing Jammeh has the cure for this disease."
"I have no doubt that most of those people who are appearing daily on Gambian television receiving his treatment are compelled by circumstances to do so. Left alone, I am sure most of them would not have come out to show the rest of the country that they are AIDS sufferers," he continued.
Despite concerns about the safety of his practices, those suffering from HIV/AIDS wait hours in line at Mr. Jammeh's clinic to be chosen for treatment by the president.
Patients must agree to abide by a strict diet, live in a secluded compound, and stop taking anti-retroviral medications if they want the president's remedy.
President Jammeh has refused to allow samples of his herbs to be taken out of The Gambia for international testing.
Mr. Jammeh, who recently won re-election, says he plans to remain in power for several decades.