Some patients claim to have put on weight during
A claim by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh that he can cure
Aids in three days has been lambasted by a leading South African
"I'm astonished. The danger of a president standing up [to
say this] is shocking," Jerry Coovadia told the BBC.
Mr Jammeh said last month he had begun treating 10 patients
on Thursdays with secret medicinal herb ingredients.
His health minister backs his claims, saying in trials so far
patients had gained weight and physically improved.
"A response within three to 10 days and a three-day course is
almost inconceivable for a disease like HIV/Aids," said Prof
Coovadia, who heads the HIV research team at the University of
KwaZulu Natal and is a member of South Africa's Treatment Action
He said that science was many years away from finding a cure
"so the fact that someone announces a cure like this is
exceedingly difficult to accept".
President Jammeh, who says he can also cure asthma, made his
announcement to a gathering of foreign diplomats last month.
"I can treat asthma and HIV/Aids... Within three days the
person should be tested again and I can tell you that he/she
will be negative," he said in a statement.
"I am not a witch doctor and in fact you cannot have a witch
doctor. You are either a witch or a doctor."
Gambian Health Minister Tamsir Mbow says the herbal medicines
are taken orally and applied to the body.
"We cannot actually tell you the type of herbs we are using
presently, it will be known to the whole world later on," Dr
Mbow told the BBC.
One of the patients currently undergoing the treatment is
Gambian university lecturer Ousman Sowe.
"I've noticed I've increased weight substantially over the
last 10 days. I am no longer suffering from constipation, but we
have yet to receive result of the tests," he told the BBC.
"I have 100% confidence in the president and I'm taking the
medication with all confidence."
But Mr Coovadia said it was tragic that The Gambia had a
"political environment that allows a minister of health and a
president to violate every foundation of science and public
"The entire exercise is circumscribed by secrecy - that's not
how science works," he said.
It would be impossible to measure the negative impact of Mr
Jammeh's claims, but it could lead to risky sexual behaviour,
instead of following preventative advice, he said.
The World Health Organisation told the BBC it did not wish to
comment on the issue at this stage.
Last year, South Africa's health minister came in for severe
criticism for promoting a diet of garlic and beetroot to those
with HIV, while not rolling out the anti-retroviral drugs which
are the only recognised treatment.
South Africa has now reversed its controversial advice.
To hear the full interview with Jerry Coovadia and more on
Mr Jammeh's alleged healing powers tune in to the BBC World
Weekend Network Africa on Saturday 3 February 2007