Giant Strides then Baby Steps
The health statistics in sub-Saharan Africa continue to remain bleak. Still the sub-continent which is home to some of the world’s poorest has made a number of giant strides in improving health outcomes – there is an increase in the number of children receiving their childhood immunizations, thus reducing childhood mortality, more women are seeking treatment for reproductive health issues, advocacy groups have succeeded in helping couples to think about family planning techniques, etc.
That being said, a number of leaders have been confounding the efforts of the medical community by taking baby steps.
In the recent past, the successes attained in the global eradication of polio were cut short when traditional leaders in Northern Nigeria for no known logical reason, encouraged people to boycott the vaccination campaigns being carried out by the WHO. The consequences of this boycott led to the re-emergence of polio not just in Nigeria but also among its polio-free neighbors – Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Ghana, Togo and Central African Republic
South Africa has one of the highest prevalence rates of HIV infection in the world, with a high percentage of the country’s workforce infected thus having profound effects on the economic and social development issues, yet that country’s leader Thabo Mbeki was quoted as stating that the HIV infection does not lead to AIDS. In addition, the health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang promoted good nutrition combined with a diet of beetroot, garlic, lemon and African potatoes as a cure for AIDS in place of antiretroviral medications. While both of these individuals have since retracted their statements, there was a time when the more than 50 million HIV-infected patients in the country were more or less in ‘treatment limbo’ because of them.
Recent statements from the Gambia indicate that the president Yahya Jammeh has found a cure for HIV/AIDS using herbs and bananas. Patients who have already started treatment with antiretroviral medications are required to stop treatment in order to switch to the herbal remedy, thereby increasing the potential for the development of drug resistance. Offers from the World Health Organization to help the Gambian government to test the safety, efficacy and quality of the herbal remedy were declined in addition the UN Resident Coordinator in the Gambia was expelled after she criticized the president’s claims to cure AIDS.
Somehow, it makes it all sound a little dubious
The reality on the ground in sub-Saharan Africa makes it easy for these African leaders to get away with the promotion of herbal remedies the efficacy of which has not been tried and tested.
Most medications are still too expensive for the average African living in poverty worse still if they are infected with HIV/AIDS and are not lucky to be part of a program which offers free drugs as well as free corresponding diagnostic and laboratory monitoring facilities as part of treatment of HIV, most AIDS patients in Africa usually just wilt away and die while waiting for some sort of redemption.
The award-winning documentary, Bad Medicine tells the heart –wrenching story of the events leading to the death of young children in Nigeria following heart surgery performed by the International Children’s Heart Foundation. The adrenaline which was meant to revive their hearts following surgery had been replaced by water and by the time the Nigerian authorities led by the ever proactive Dora Akunyuli were able to get to the bottom of this, four children had lost their lives.
While the truth is that the drug companies and the teaching hospital where the children were treated are responsible for these innocent deaths, most uninstructed people living in the country will only see the superficial outcomes and possibly paint their own scenarios – Children were sick, they underwent surgery and were given ‘Western’ medications – they died. Perhaps if they had been given a concoction of herbal remedies their deaths could have prevented.
African leaders need to do the right thing by their people as far as health is concerned – joining international efforts to increase awareness, lobbying drug companies to provide affordable medications and setting up taskforces to guard against the procurement and distribution of fake drugs.
All seems more worthwhile than creating and promoting a secret herbal remedy