The Gambia was never the only nation where fraudulent claims to cure HIV infection were promoted, but the actions of former president Yahya Jammeh made it one of the most egregious examples.
The harms caused by Jammeh’s herbal-based Presidential Alternative Treatment Program (PATP), launched in 2007, are now the focus of a research paper published in Health and Human Rights Journal by scholars from the University of The Gambia and the University of Notre Dame in the United States, with the support of AIDS-Free World.
“Jammeh claimed that his PATP cure could eradicate HIV from the body in just three days,” the authors said. “At the time of the introduction of his PATP cure in 2007, the number of people living with HIV in the Gambia was 18,000. This number rose steadily to 21,000 by 2018.”
The authors, led by Sarah Bosha at Notre Dame’s Eck Institute for Global Health, review the practices implemented under PATP by Gambians living under Jammeh, a dictator who was finally ousted after 22 years in January 2017 – weeks after he refused to honor the election of President Adama Barrow. He has remained in exile in Equatorial Guinea as the country moves ahead in a difficult reconciliation process.
Among the many human rights violations, the paper authors argue, was the failure of Jammeh and the Gambian government to properly care for HIV-infected patients during the 10 years that PATP was an active program. At least three of those patients filed a 2018 lawsuit over the PATP practices.
Yet the authors also take to task an international community that did little to intervene.
“The UN and World Health Organization can and should do more to consistently speak out and take action against any purported HIV cures that are distributed to people living with HIV without the backing of rigorous testing procedures that confirm their safety and efficacy,” the authors concluded.
Jammeh was not the first head of state to use his power and position to “shape access to care and the management of HIV and AIDS.” Nor will he be the last, the authors warn. “The next fraudulent HIV cure promoted by a powerful individual will certainly come, but is the international global health community ready to stand in defense of people living with HIV?”
Image: GRTS, WHO file