[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United
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
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."