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Gambia: The President who claims he can cure Aids on Mondays

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  • Zafar Khan
    The President who claims he can cure Aids on Mondays By Alex Duval Smith Published: 03 February 2007
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 3, 2007
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      The President who claims he can cure Aids on Mondays
      By Alex Duval Smith
      Published: 03 February 2007


      The smallest country in Africa is this morning playing
      host to one of the longest queues on the continent, as
      hundreds of people line up for miracle cures for
      asthma and Aids, promised by the Gambian President.

      Scientists have reacted with horror to a claim by
      President Yahya Jammeh that he can cure asthma on
      Fridays and Saturdays and HIV/Aids on Mondays and
      Thursdays. All patients need is a referral from a
      doctor and the willingness to queue up at State House
      in the capital, Banjul.

      "I'm astonished. The danger of a president saying this
      is shocking," said South African HIV specialist Jerry
      Coovadia, who heads the HIV research team at the
      University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban.

      Professor Coovadia is one of the most vociferous
      critics of the South African government's resistance
      to rolling out antiretroviral drugs. After pressure
      from him and other scientists the government last year
      withdrew its advice that a diet of garlic, beetroot
      and olive oil could help people infected with HIV.

      The rush for Mr Jammeh's alleged cure began on 18
      January after the west African country's state
      television service devoted most of its evening news to
      it. The President, who believes he has mystic powers,
      was seen laying his hands on the heads of patients at
      the Royal Victoria Hospital in Banjul. Since then, Mr
      Jammeh has addressed diplomats and the broadcaster has
      shown interviews with alleged patients who say they
      are feeling better and putting on weight.

      Mr Jammeh, who has been in power since 1994, told the
      diplomats he has long had mystic powers but that he
      only recently received a "mandate" to treat large
      numbers of people. In his speech, he said: "The cure
      is a day's treatment. Within three days the person
      will be negative."

      Mr Jammeh said he hoped the Taiwanese ambassador would
      spread news of the "cure" because his country has a
      large pharmaceuticals industry. According to rumours
      in Banjul, Mr Jammeh's treatment is based on seven
      herbs that are mentioned in the Koran.

      The President has not revealed the names of the herbs,
      nor divulged who has bestowed the "mandate" on him,
      which includes specific days of the week for each
      treatment. "I am not doing it for money or
      popularity," he said. "For asthma I have to choose
      between Saturday and Friday. I am also not authorised
      to treat more than 100 people. The one on HIV/Aids
      cannot be mass-produced because I am restricted to 10
      patients only on every Thursday and Monday." He said
      he may have to cancel surgeries on Thursdays if they
      clash with cabinet meetings.

      Superstition and mysticism has gone hand in hand with
      governance since President Jammeh came to power. Four
      years ago, in an official press statement, he alleged
      that members of the opposition had placed the carcass
      of a lion and gourds of palm wine at a major road
      junction to "spoil the country's economy". A former
      National Intelligence Agency boss lost his job after
      being accused of hiring a Senegalese witchdoctor.

      From soldier to statesman

      * The Gambia's notoriously authoritarian and somewhat
      eccentric President started his career as a young
      lieutenant before sweeping to power in 1994 in a
      military coup. He has since been re-elected three
      times in elections of varying standards of fairness.

      * Since coming to power, Mr Jammeh, a self-declared
      mystic, has spoken of turning his country into an
      oil-producing nation to supplement its main export,
      peanuts, a product that currently leaves Gambians
      susceptible to world market changes. To date, however,
      his country has been unable to find any crude.

      * Mr Jammeh's regime isconsidered stable for The
      Gambia, but this has come at a price, largely through
      his suppression of critical newspapers.
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