The Difficult Struggle Against AIDS in Africa
By Marco Evers
Millions in Sub-Saharan Africa are infected with the HIV virus which causes AIDS. But efforts to curb the disease continue to fail due to disinformation and bad politics. What can be done?
It's a story, set in the tiny, Western African country of Gambia, that would almost be funny -- if it weren't so outrageous and tragic.
The country, clinging to the banks of the Gambia River as it winds toward the coast, is ruled by 41-year-old Yahya Jammeh, an autocrat who has a thing for white garb. And he aims high -- he has resolved to transform his country into an African version of the rich, Asian city-state Singapore by 2020. Quite a goal for a country of 1.6 million with a low literacy rate and 75 percent of the population living off the land. But compared to Jammeh's most recent vision, reinventing Gambia as a center of trade and finance sounds almost plausible.
Jammeh -- a military officer who staged a successful putsch in 1994 -- is not just the president. He's also a healer on a divine mission. In January of this year, he summoned a number of his acolytes together with foreign diplomats and revealed to them that he had made an extraordinary discovery. He announced that, in addition to asthma, he was now capable of healing Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) -- the epidemic that ravages sub-Saharan Africa like no other region of the world. More than 15 million Africans have already died of AIDS, and a further 25 million are infected with the HIV virus which causes the disease.
On Thursdays -- Jammeh's healing powers are only available to him on that day of the week he says -- the president frequently allows Gambian television to film him as he defeats AIDS: Patients lie flat on their backs as the president whirls around them and mumbles verses from the Koran. He slaps green sludge onto their skin, sprinkles liquid from an old Evian bottle over them and gives them a brown broth to drink. A quick banana snack completes the therapy.
That's it. Thanks to the power of the Koran and seven secret herbs this treatment, repeated over the course of several weeks, leads to the patient being cured of the lethal virus "with absolute certainty," as Jammeh says. But two requirements need to be met for it all to work. First: His patients have to renounce alcohol, tea, coffee and sex for the duration of their treatment -- as well as theft. And second: Whoever is taking anti-viral medication has to stop doing so immediately, according to Jammeh.
The AIDS epidemic is dessimating Sub-Saharan Africa. Even more disturbing is that the Gambian minister of health supports his president -- despite being a trained gynecologist educated in Ukraine and Ireland. The country's other institutions, including the parliament, are doing the same. And on the streets of the Gambia, demonstrations can sometimes be seen -- not against Jammeh, but in support of him.
More at: Epidemic of Ignorance: The Difficult Struggle Against AIDS in Africa - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News