The President of Gambia has horrified scientists by announcing that he has developed a “miracle cure” for HIV/AIDS.
Hundreds of Gambians have lined up to be “cured” by President Yahya Jammeh, who treats his patients by rubbing a mysterious herbal paste into their ribcages and then instructing them to swallow a bitter yellow drink, followed by two bananas.
The therapy is administered repeatedly over several weeks.
According to Mr Jammeh, AIDS sufferers will be cured within “three to thirty days.”
The President announced his alleged cure in January to a gathering of perplexed foreign diplomats.
“Whatever you do there are bound to be sceptics, but I can tell you my method is foolproof,” he said.
“Mine is not an argument, mine is a proof. It is a declaration. I can cure AIDS and I will.”
Government radio and TV addresses publicise the treatment, which Jammeh provides for free.
It has the backing of the Gambian Health Ministry.
Mr Jammeh refuses to disclose the ingredients of his herbal concoction, saying only that the treatment uses seven plants – “three of which are not from Gambia”.
His official website claims that patients have experienced a “marked improvement” in their health as a result of the treatment and scoffs at critics who dispute its efficacy.
But in a continent where HIV/AIDS is rife, such claims of miracle cures are alarming the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other health workers.
Experts are particularly concerned that Mr Jammeh orders his patients to stop taking anti-retroviral drugs, which will weaken the body’s immune system and render the patient more prone to infection.
Antonio Filipe, local head of WHO in Senegal, wanted to put the record straight.
“As the World Health Organisation, we would like to state quite clearly the following: so far there is no cure for AIDS,” he said.
Africa’s leaders have been extraordinarily slow to address the problem of Aids.
Last year, the South African minister of health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, suggested that a diet of garlic, beetroot and lemon juice is more effective than anti-retroviral drugs.
The South African government did not provide Aids drugs until a suit by activists forced it to in 2002.
Now Gambia’s president is peddling quack remedies for one of the world’s most pernicious diseases.
An estimated 20,000 Gambians are living with HIV/AIDS.