KENYA: The Lure of Dodgy Herbal “cures” for HIV

Posted on 22 August 2008. Filed under: MDGs, Public Health |

Photo: Keishamaza Rukikaire/IRIN
Quacks posing as traditional herbalists have fooled many HIV-positive people

MOMBASA, 21 August 2008 (PlusNews) – People in Kenya’s Coast Province, believed not to be genuine herbalists, are selling concoctions purported to treat HIV and persuading many patients on life-prolonging antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to abandon their medication.

Omari Mwanjama, of the National AIDS Control Council in Coast Province, said people were told the concoctions contained unique ingredients that would boost their immune system and could even cure the disease.

“It is ironic to see people living with HIV/AIDS are being swindled of their money in broad daylight, yet the government was providing them with antiretroviral drugs free of charge.”

He added that patients were sometimes offered free samples as a way of getting them to buy the concoctions, which would later prove to be very expensive. The quacks often claimed their ‘drugs’ were moringa olifera, a herb known for its nutritional and medicinal properties.

“The fact that most of the con-herbalists say they were also once infected by HIV/AIDS but have since recovered after using the concoctions is making them even more popular,” said Raphael Mwachofi, a Mombasa resident whose brother abandoned his ARVs in favour of one such potion.

Mwanjama said the government would need to redouble its efforts to convince people to adhere to their ARV regimen. Coast Province, where many people still lack information about HIV/AIDS, has an HIV prevalence of 7.9 percent, similar to the national average of 7.8 percent.

Stigma made it difficult for the provincial administration to crack down on the culprits, said Benjamin Nzuki, a senior district officer in the area. “You see, nobody infected or affected would want to come out openly, and those using the concoction seem to have made up their minds about [its ability to cure],” he said.

Elizabeth Mwakolo, 32, a mother of four, commented: “Having suffered from the disease for four years now, it feels good to find a drug that is sweet and easy to swallow. Moringa has even made me fatter, and I do believe I’ll soon become negative again.” She paid the equivalent of US$75 for the drug, money she can ill afford.

The government is developing an action plan to regulate the use of traditional medicine and incorporate it in the treatment of major illnesses such as malaria and HIV, but the vast majority of traditional practitioners are unregulated.

Although there are few avenues to test the efficacy of these remedies, an estimated 80 percent of Kenyans use traditional healers either exclusively or in conjunction with Western medicine.


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