The president who made people take his bogus HIV cure

Yahya Jammeh administering his herbal anti-HIV paste in 2007Image copyright EPA

The Gambia's former leader, Yahya Jammeh, who left the country a year ago after two decades in power, has been accused of many crimes.But one of the strangest was forcing thousands of people with HIV to undergo treatment with a concoction of herbs he had invented himself.An unknown number died, reports Colin Freeman.

As the first person in The Gambia to publicly declare himself HIV-positive, Lamin Ceesay thought he was doing the right thing.It was back in 2000, when many people were still ignorant about HIV, and when HIV-positive people had to cope with stigma and prejudice on top of everything else.

On World Aids Day that year, Ceesay plucked up the courage to go public and took part in a street march put on by an HIV charity.It earned him the respect of health campaigners worldwide.But a few years later it also brought him to the attention of Gambia's president, Yahya Jammeh.

I thought about just sending other people on the programme, but I feared if I didn't go myself, it might get me into troubleLamin Ceesay, Aids activist In early 2007, Jammeh declared that he'd invented his own miracle cure for the virus using a mixture of herbal medicine and spiritual healing techniques.Even more bizarrely, he said the cure only worked on Thursdays and Mondays.Not surprisingly, this was denounced as quackery of the most dangerous sort by health chiefs around the world.But in The Gambia itself, telling the president that he was talking nonsense could land you in prison.So when an invitation arrived at Ceesay's HIV charity, asking for 10 volunteers to be the first batch of guinea pigs for the president's six-month treatment programme, he decided it was an offer he couldn't refuse. Image caption Lamin Ceesay was forced to give up his anti-retroviral drugs "I thought about just sending other people on the programme, but I feared if I didn't go myself, it might get me into trouble," he told me."I also thought, 'Why not?It can't do any harm.'"That was where Ceesay was wrong.It was only when he arrived at the president's makeshift clinic at State House that the ground rules of the programme were explained.No smoking, or drinking tea or coffee.No sex.And crucially, no taking of mainstream medicine - including the anti-retroviral drugs given to him by his regular doctors.Find out more From Our Own Correspondent has insight and analysis from BBC journalists, correspondents and writers from around the world Listen on iPlayer[1], get the podcast[2] or listen on the BBC World Service - or on Radio 4 on Saturdays at 11:30 and Thursdays at 11:00 BST There was no backing out now, though.Jammeh's armed bodyguards were stationed at the clinic doors.For the next six months, they said, no patient would be allowed to leave without his permission.And so the treatment began.Each morning the president would rub a mysterious green paste into the patients' bodies, while chanting prayers from a leather-bound Koran.Then, twice per day, they would drink from a bottle filled with a yellow herbal potion.Jammeh refused to say what was in it, despite being told that if he really had found a cure for HIV he could make Gambia rich overnight. Image copyright EPA Whatever it was, it gave Ceesay constant diarrhoea.He also caught tuberculosis from another patient, and eventually grew so weak that he had to be transferred back to a proper hospital.Tests then showed that his HIV viral load had soared, and he was put back on the ARVs again.
As an educated person, I knew it was all rubbish -but I couldn't say anything against itOusman Sowe, Former patient

Ceesay was among the lucky ones.His wife, who was also HIV-positive, died during the herbal programme - and so too, he says, did the majority of other patients."As a senior figure in the HIV group, I was attending funerals all the time," he says.

That, though, was not the picture promoted by President Jammeh, who press-ganged patients into appearing on Gambian state TV to sing the programme's success.Among them was Ousman Sowe, who had a degree in public health from Britain's Leeds University.Hoping to give the programme some academic gravitas, Jammeh had recruited Sowe as its spokesman, to try to rebuff the doubts of incredulous foreign journalists.

At one point, Sowe told a BBC reporter that he had "100% confidence" in the cure.In fact, giving up his ARVs had left him so weak that he could barely climb a flight of stairs."As an educated person, I knew it was all rubbish," Sowe remembers."But I couldn't say anything against it, even though people were dying."

Image caption Ousman Sowe and other survivors want Yahya Jammeh to face trial

Sowe and his fellow patients are now working with Aids-Free World, a US campaign group which wants charges to be brought against Jammeh over the programme.It says it is potentially one of the biggest human rights scandals committed by his regime.

What is more, unlike his secret prisons and torture chambers, it was carried out as the world looked on.Jammeh wasn't too keen on scrutiny, though.A senior UN health official who raised objections was kicked out of The Gambia early on.

In the end, some 9,000 people are believed to have been treated, although since Jammeh kept all the clinic's records secret, nobody has yet established just how many of them died.One thing now seems certain, though - the only "miracle" about his cure was that anyone survived at all.

Photographs by Colin Freeman, unless otherwise indicated

You may also like...

Image copyright Bailey E Kinney

When Brryan Jackson's father injected his son's infant body with a syringe full of HIV-infected blood, he hoped he'd never see him grow up.Nobody ever imagined that 24 years later, he'd be facing his strapping young son in court to hear about the devastating impact of his crime.

Brryan Jackson:My father injected me with HIV[3]

Join the conversation - find us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.[4][5][6][7]...

References

  1. ^ Listen on iPlayer (www.bbc.co.uk)
  2. ^ the podcast (www.bbc.co.uk)
  3. ^ Brryan Jackson:My father injected me with HIV (www.bbc.co.uk)
  4. ^ Facebook (www.facebook.com)
  5. ^ Instagram (www.instagram.com)
  6. ^ YouTube (www.youtube.com)
  7. ^ Twitter (twitter.com)

Read more

Sick baby's condition 'will not improve', High Court told

Isaiah Haastrup and auntImage copyright PA Image caption Isaiah, pictured with an aunt, has brain damage

An 11-month-old boy at the centre of a High Court life-support treatment fight is "profoundly disabled" and will not improve, a doctor has told a judge.

King's College Hospital said giving further intensive care treatment to Isaiah Haastrup is "futile, burdensome and not in his best interests".

Isaiah's mother, Takesha Thomas, and father Lanre Haastrup, both 36 and from London, want treatment to continue.

Isaiah suffered "catastrophic" brain damage at birth due to lack of oxygen.

Mr Justice MacDonald is overseeing the case in the Family Division of the High Court in London.

Image copyright PA Image caption Isaiah Haastrup"s father Lanre Haastrup and mother Takesha Thomas arrive at the High Court in London

A specialist treating Isaiah told the judge the boy was in a "low level of consciousness", did not respond to stimulation and could not move independently.

"I have seen no significant change in Isaiah's condition," added the specialist.

"It is my opinion he will not improve."

He described Isaiah as "profoundly disabled" and added that he could not breath independently.

The judge has ruled that medics involved in Isaiah's care cannot be identified.

There was also evidence that suggested he was experiencing pain, the court was told.

'Overwhelming evidence'

Barrister Fiona Paterson, representing King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said Isaiah was "ventilator-dependent" and being cared for in a paediatric intensive care unit.

Doctors did not think there were any "further investigations or forms of treatment" which would benefit him, the court heard.

Ms Paterson said nobody could understand the suffering Isaiah's parents had endured but "overwhelming medical evidence" showed that stopping treatment was in Isaiah's best interests.

Isaiah was born at King's College Hospital on 18 February 2017.

The hearing continues....

Read more

I nearly died from the president's herbal HIV 'cure'

Yahya Jammeh administering his herbal anti-HIV paste in 2007Image copyright EPA

The Gambia's former leader, Yahya Jammeh, who left the country a year ago after two decades in power, has been accused of many crimes.But one of the strangest was forcing thousands of people with HIV to undergo treatment with a concoction of herbs he had invented himself.An unknown number died, reports Colin Freeman.

As the first person in The Gambia to publicly declare himself HIV-positive, Lamin Ceesay thought he was doing the right thing.It was back in 2000, when ignorance about HIV was still rife in Africa, and when HIV-positive people had to cope with stigma and prejudice on top of everything else.

On World Aids Day that year, Ceesay plucked up the courage to go public and took part in a street march put on by an HIV charity.It earned him the respect of health campaigners worldwide.But a few years later it also brought him to the attention of Gambia's president, Yahya Jammeh.

I thought about just sending other people on the programme, but I feared if I didn't go myself, it might get me into troubleLamin Ceesay, Aids activist In early 2007, Jammeh declared that he'd invented his own miracle cure for the virus using a mixture of herbal medicine and spiritual healing techniques.Even more bizarrely, he said the cure only worked on Thursdays and Mondays.Not surprisingly, this was denounced as quackery of the most dangerous sort by health chiefs around the world.But in The Gambia itself, telling the president that he was talking nonsense could land you in prison.So when an invitation arrived at Ceesay's HIV charity, asking for 10 volunteers to be the first batch of guinea pigs for the president's six-month treatment programme, he decided it was an offer he couldn't refuse. Image caption Lamin Ceesay was forced to give up his anti-retroviral drugs "I thought about just sending other people on the programme, but I feared if I didn't go myself, it might get me into trouble," he told me."I also thought, 'Why not?It can't do any harm.'"That was where Ceesay was wrong.It was only when he arrived at the president's makeshift clinic at State House that the ground rules of the programme were explained.No smoking, or drinking tea or coffee.No sex.And crucially, no taking of mainstream medicine - including the anti-retroviral drugs given to him by his regular doctors.Find out more From Our Own Correspondent has insight and analysis from BBC journalists, correspondents and writers from around the world Listen on iPlayer[1], get the podcast[2] or listen on the BBC World Service - or on Radio 4 on Saturdays at 11:30 and Thursdays at 11:00 BST There was no backing out now, though.Jammeh's armed bodyguards were stationed at the clinic doors.For the next six months, they said, no patient would be allowed to leave without his permission.And so the treatment began.Each morning the president would rub a mysterious green paste into the patients' bodies, while chanting prayers from a leather-bound Koran.Then, twice per day, they would drink from a bottle filled with a yellow herbal potion.Jammeh refused to say what was in it, despite being told that if he really had found a cure for HIV he could make Gambia rich overnight. Image copyright EPA Whatever it was, it gave Ceesay constant diarrhoea.He also caught tuberculosis from another patient, and eventually grew so weak that he had to be transferred back to a proper hospital.Tests then showed that his HIV viral load had soared, and he was put back on the ARVs again.
As an educated person, I knew it was all rubbish -but I couldn't say anything against itOusman Sowe, Former patient

Ceesay was among the lucky ones.His wife, who was also HIV-positive, died during the herbal programme - and so too, he says, did the majority of other patients."As a senior figure in the HIV group, I was attending funerals all the time," he says.

That, though, was not the picture promoted by President Jammeh, who press-ganged patients into appearing on Gambian state TV to sing the programme's success.Among them was Ousman Sowe, who had a degree in public health from Britain's Leeds University.Hoping to give the programme some academic gravitas, Jammeh had recruited Sowe as its spokesman, to try to rebuff the doubts of incredulous foreign journalists.

At one point, Sowe told a BBC reporter that he had "100% confidence" in the cure.In fact, giving up his ARVs had left him so weak that he could barely climb a flight of stairs."As an educated person, I knew it was all rubbish," Sowe remembers."But I couldn't say anything against it, even though people were dying."

Image caption Ousman Sowe and other survivors want Yahya Jammeh to face trial

Sowe and his fellow patients are now working with Aids-Free World, a US campaign group which wants charges to be brought against Jammeh over the programme.It says it is potentially one of the biggest human rights scandals committed by his regime.

What is more, unlike his secret prisons and torture chambers, it was carried out as the world looked on.Jammeh wasn't too keen on scrutiny, though.A senior UN health official who raised objections was kicked out of The Gambia early on.

In the end, some 9,000 people are believed to have been treated, although since Jammeh kept all the clinic's records secret, nobody has yet established just how many of them died.One thing now seems certain, though - the only "miracle" about his cure was that anyone survived at all.

Photographs by Colin Freeman, unless otherwise indicated

You may also like...

Image copyright Bailey E Kinney

When Brryan Jackson's father injected his son's infant body with a syringe full of HIV-infected blood, he hoped he'd never see him grow up.Nobody ever imagined that 24 years later, he'd be facing his strapping young son in court to hear about the devastating impact of his crime.

Brryan Jackson:My father injected me with HIV[3]

Join the conversation - find us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.[4][5][6][7]...

References

  1. ^ Listen on iPlayer (www.bbc.co.uk)
  2. ^ the podcast (www.bbc.co.uk)
  3. ^ Brryan Jackson:My father injected me with HIV (www.bbc.co.uk)
  4. ^ Facebook (www.facebook.com)
  5. ^ Instagram (www.instagram.com)
  6. ^ YouTube (www.youtube.com)
  7. ^ Twitter (twitter.com)

Read more

Disabilities caused in babies by epilepsy drug a 'scandal'

image

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Media captionBridget Buck was born with severe brain damage and spina bifida

An MP has said the harm caused to children after their mothers were given the epilepsy drug sodium valproate is an "extraordinary scandal".

It is thought about 20,000 children in the UK have been left with disabilities caused by valproate since the 1970s.

Norman Lamb MP said it was also "extraordinarily distressing" new research suggested medical problems could be passed through generations.

Affected families have called for a public inquiry and compensation.[1]

Sodium valproate, also known as Epilim, can be prescribed by doctors as a treatment for epilepsy and bipolar disorder.

It carries a risk of causing physical abnormalities, autism, low IQ and learning disabilities if babies are exposed to the drug while in the womb.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said the drug is "kept under constant review", while the Department of Health said it expects the MHRA to take further action if a review finds more can be done to highlight the risks associated with it.

Many parents have claimed they were not made aware of the risks[2] from taking the treatment while pregnant, even after new safety warnings were introduced in 2016.

Image caption Sue Jenkinson took sodium valproate while she was pregnant with her two daughters

Sue Jenkinson, from Liverpool, took the drug while she was pregnant and both of her two daughters developed foetal valproate syndrome.

They have since had their own children and they believe they are showing signs of the condition, despite neither taking valproate during their own pregnancies.

"It's because I took that medication, that's why my kids haven't got a normal life and they struggle every single day of their lives," Ms Jenkinson said.

Her grandson Ryan has medical problems including dyspraxia, learning difficulties and a bowel condition, and is being monitored by Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology Gus Baker.

Prof Baker said he is currently identifying Ryan's "strengths and weaknesses" and "trying to map them on to what we understand about sodium valproate and how it affects children".

"I'll probably be in a good position to provide a formulation of what I think has happened to him and what we might be able to do to ameliorate those difficulties that he is clearly having," he said.

Image caption Sue Jenkinson believes foetal valproate syndrome has been passed through three generations of her family

Mr Lamb, a former minister for care and support, is part of a campaign calling for the government to back compensation claims.

"We are in a good dialogue.The minister, Lord O'Shaughnessy, appears to be completely conscious of the need to stop this scandal continuing," he said.

In France, a charity-led campaign is being supported by the government and Mr Lamb has called for something similar "to happen here without delay".

The drug's maker Sanofi said valproate had been "made available to physicians to treat epileptic patients in the 1970s".

"It was and still is one of the most effective treatments for epilepsy, a serious and complex disease that can be potentially fatal to patients," it added.

The firm said it was "aware of the challenging situations faced by families with children with conditions that may be related to their mother's treatment with antiepileptic drugs".

However, they said the drug "has at all times been supplied in the UK with a warning of the risk of malformations in babies".

Image caption This warning has been on the outside of valproate pill packets since 2016 in Britain

Research from Konkuk University in South Korea involving mice has also suggested disabilities caused by valproate could afflict successive generations within families.

Professor of Pharmacology Chan Young Shin said he found evidence "the compound could cause autism spectrum disorder trans-generationally".

The MHRA has said the study had "many limitations", but some families believe this has happened to them.

Mr Lamb said the research into whether the syndrome can pass between generations showed the consequences of taking valproate during pregnancy must be "extraordinarily distressing for the families affected".

Image caption Karen Buck has been told her daughter Bridget only has months to live

Any potential help for affected families will probably be too late for Bridget Buck.

The 19-year-old, from Stanmore in north-west London, was born with severe medical problems including brain damage and spina bifida after her mother was prescribed sodium valproate.

"I do all Bridget's overall care.I think for Bridget, I talk for Bridget, I walk for Bridget.I live for Bridget," her mother Karen said.

Yet she has been told the speed her daughter is deteriorating means she will probably only have months to live.

"Mother's shouldn't have to bury their daughter, no mother should do that," she said.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said:"Patient safety is always our priority.We want to make sure doctors give women the right information when prescribing these drugs — that's why the medicines regulator is already reviewing how effective measures to highlight these risks have been.

"We expect them to take further action if they find that more can be done."

Watch the full film on Inside Out London, Monday at 19:30 GMT on BBC One....

Read more

Embarrassment makes women avoid smear tests, charity says

Lauren BennieImage copyright Lauren Bennie Image caption Lauren Bennie said she put off having her smear test until the age of 30

Young women are avoiding getting smear tests because they are embarrassed by the look and smell of their pubic areas, a survey suggests.

The charity Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust surveyed 2,017 British women.

A third said embarrassment caused them to delay getting a smear test, which can prevent 75% of cervical cancers.

The charity said cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35,[1] yet almost two-thirds of those surveyed weren't aware they're most at risk.

A total of 220,000 British women are diagnosed with cervical abnormalities each year.

'Naive and uneducated'

Lauren Bennie said she put off having her smear test until the age of 30 because she was "naive, embarrassed and uneducated about the female body".

"So many silly things stopped me from going for my smear test," she said.

"I worried about the nurse being able to take one look at my bits and have some magic skill to be able to determine the number of sexual partners I'd had.I thought a lot about what kind of underwear and clothes to wear."

While at university in Dundee, she thought she might know the medical students who could be asked in to observe.

"I didn't know it at the time, but the embarrassment I felt around going for a smear was actually doing my body damage," said the 33-year-old Glaswegian.

When she did eventually get a test she was told she needed further examination.

"It was when I was faced with words such as dyskaryosis, high-grade and colposcopy that I realised the severity of the situation."

Hospital results later confirmed she had severely abnormal cells that were pre-cancerous on her cervix.

"It was terrifying," she said."I felt angry rather than sad that I had left it so long to go for a smear test."

Image copyright Science Photo Library

Lauren's story isn't unique.

The survey found young women are embarrassed to attend smear tests because of their body shape (35%), the appearance of their vulva (34%) and concerns over smell (38%).

A third said they wouldn't go if they hadn't waxed or shaved their bikini area.

About 15% also said they'd miss their smear tests for a gym class or a waxing appointment.

Robert Music, of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, said:"Please don't let unhappiness or uncertainty about your body stop you from attending what could be a life-saving test.

"Nurses are professionals who carry out millions of tests every year, they can play a big part in ensuring women are comfortable."

Smear test 'saved my life'

Of the five million women in the UK invited to cervical screening each year, one in four do not attend.

This rises to one in three among women aged 25 to 29 and is particularly bad in some geographic areas, such as Glasgow.

Mr Music said:"Every area has different demographics, pressures and geography," with the charity finding[2] a third of local healthcare providers and councils haven't made any action in the past year to increase uptake of smear tests.

"There is already so much great work being done across the UK, however, if this is not amplified and prioritised, we will continue to see a decline in cervical screening coverage and ultimately lives lost."

Lauren's smear test allowed her to catch the pre-cancerous cells before they developed into cancer.

She said:"I had to have surgery to have a piece of my cervix removed.

"Luckily I received the all-clear but if I had delayed my smear test any longer it could have been much worse.

"My smear test could have saved my life, please don't put yours off." ...

References

  1. ^ cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35, (www.ons.gov.uk)
  2. ^ finding (www.jostrust.org.uk)

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