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Cameroon: Stigma helps charlatans selling AIDS cures to flourish




 

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

YAOUNDE, 29 August (PLUSNEWS) - Many Cameroonians view HIV/AIDS as a shameful disease. Reluctant to disclose or accept their HIV positive status, they consult charlatans claiming to cure the disease, who not only fail but often worsen their clients' health by encouraging them to interrupt ARV treatment, causing them to develop resistance to future ARV medications. Christy's belief in miracle cures almost cost her her life.

She discovered her positive status soon after the death of her husband, a magistrate, in 2001. "I had shingles [a subcutaneous disease often found in HIV-positive people] for the second time. A cousin advised me to be tested for HIV/AIDS."

After the test, Christy, 35, finally understood what had killed her husband and two of her three children. "I had always been faithful to my husband - I thought that AIDS only affected women who did not behave as they should; people who were not responsible. The sky fell on my head."

Fear of stigmatisation and rejection meant she did not share her devastating news with anyone, not even her parents. Despite warnings from her doctors, she clung to the false hope offered by unscrupulous traditional healers selling miracle cures. "I was desperate at the time. I would have done anything to get myself out of the situation," she told PLUSNEWS.

After Madame Nacine from Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), claimed on television that she could cure AIDS, Christy used all her savings to buy a plane ticket.

At the centre in Kinshasa several patients were being 'treated' with the 'miracle' product Madame Nacine said she had developed and used to cure herself. Christy bought six bottles at a cost of US$435. Together with the plane ticket, the trip to Kinshasa had cost her almost US$2,000.

For a time she felt better and her appetite returned, but six months later, after testing again for HIV, she was shocked to learn she was still positive.

FROM ONE MIRACLE CURE TO THE NEXT

When she developed a serious pulmonary infection, instead of rejecting her as Christy had feared, her mother took her to the Hope Clinic in the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde, run by former minister of health Prof Victor Anomah Ngu, which claimed to have developed an AIDS vaccine called Vanhivax. "I was about to die. Any chance of feeling better was worth trying," said Christy.

After two vaccine treatments, each costing US$58, her condition worsened. The doctors treating her pulmonary infection told her mother the clinic was not recognised by the State and she should stop treatment.

Christy finally started taking antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, and is very happy that she did. "At last I am feeling better, both physically and psychologically. I have understood that the ARVs are the only thing that allows one to live for a long time and in a normal way."

Last January, Cameroonian Health Minister Urbain Olanguena Awono warned against "charlatans who have neither faith nor law, and who are motivated to earn easy money."

The Network on Ethics, law and AIDS (REDS), an association based in Yaounde, has designed a poster that says: "The charlatan claims he will be killed if people know he is curing AIDS", to counter unscrupulous healers and help people living with HIV and their families to recognise them.

Christy, who now works to raise awareness of the risks of consulting charlatans, said she was fortunate to survive. "If I could start all over again, I would never do what I did. I don't know how I could have spent such amounts of money on nothing."



 


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Information in this article was accurate in August 29, 2006. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.