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[afro-nets] SWAZILAND: AIDS toll leads to flood of bogus "miracle" cures

SWAZILAND: AIDS toll leads to flood of bogus "miracle" cures

In most sub-Saharan African countries from Angola to Zimbabwe,
the claim of bogus or "miracle" AIDS cure is widespread. The re-
port below highlights the peculiar situation in Swaziland.

Best wishes to all in 2004.

A. Odutola

SWAZILAND: AIDS toll leads to flood of bogus "miracle" cures
Published 12/29/03

MBABANE, 29 Dec 2003 (IRIN) - The authorities in Swaziland are
doing little to stem a flood of bogus "miracle AIDS cures" in a
country with one of the world's highest HIV infection rates.

"In a blink of an eye, it seems, Swazis have gone from deep de-
nial of the existence of AIDS to panic as they realise all the
people they are burying are not dying of witchcraft. The pleth-
ora of AIDS 'cures' is a product of that," AIDS activist Thembi
Dlamini told IRIN.

According to press reports, the supplier of one "AIDS vaccine"
in pill form, manufactured in Thailand, is providing the Swazi
army with the drug, although there is no proof of its efficacy.

Neither the army nor the drug's distributor, Sutitangwe Medical
Services of Mbabane, owned by two Thai nationals and a Swazi,
would comment when IRIN contacted them.

For R500 (US $77), which is more than the monthly take-home pay
of an average Swazi worker in industry and agriculture, a packet
of 30 "HIV vaccine pills" will purportedly protect a body's im-
mune system from viral infections for one month. One pill,
called an V1 Immunitor, is taken orally daily.

Ngwebendze Nhlabatsi, one of the drug's promoters, said in a
statement: "Nobody in the Ministry of Health is qualified to
comment for or against this pill. Neither the minister, the
principal secretary nor the chief pharmacist is qualified. In
fact, nobody in the country is qualified to comment."

Nhlabatsi's defiant stance underscored the lack of pharmaceuti-
cal regulation in Swaziland. Police conduct regular raids
against illegal narcotics, arresting possessors of marijuana and
other drugs, and burning marijuana fields. However, laws govern-
ing medicinal drugs are either obsolete or not enforced.

"In the absence of a competent national medical system, it is as
if the authorities want people to find their own 'cures' through
quack remedies," said Angelina Magongo, a nurse at a clinic in
the capital Mbabane.

Only if individuals are poisoned by a "medicine" will the au-
thorities take action.

But this is done at the local level, through city and municipal
health inspectors who usually regulate the cleanliness of res-
taurants and abattoirs. The Ministry of Health follows a lais-
sez-faire policy toward so-called medicines sold both through an
informal sector network of sidewalk vendors and unlicensed medi-
cine dealers and at legitimate and licensed establishments.

As a result, one fad "cure" after another has begun to appear.

"I use herbs from Asia. I started in January. They are expen-
sive. I choose between them and new clothes. But I know they are
helping me," said Janice Simelane, a receptionist in the commer-
cial city of Manzini who, like most Swazis, will not publically
admit she is HIV-positive.

Last month, UNAIDS reported that Swaziland had now tied with
Botswana in having the world's worst rate of infection among
adults - about 40 percent of the population.

The Swazi press has uncritically hailed the arrival of each new
AIDS "cure", focusing on the popularity of the fad drugs without
questioning their effectiveness.

A front-page story in the Times of Swaziland heralded the ap-
pearance of the V1 Immunitor: "All the way from Thailand, a new
wonder drug marketed as an AIDS vaccine has hit the local market
with a bang!"

The head of the education ministry's Exams Council, Dr Ben
Dlamini, writes a weekly column in the Swazi Observer newspaper
announcing HIV vaccines and AIDS cures, none of which have been
proved legitimate.

This week, Dlamini, who is considered a national intellectual,
wrote how marijuana can cure AIDS. He told Swazis that Britain
has a R1 billion (US $154 million) business providing cannabis-
based pain killers to hospitals, and tests are now underway to
use the medicine to beat AIDS and cancer.

"There is no question that these tests will be confirmed, be-
cause England's neighbour, the Netherlands, has already approved
the use of cannabis capsules for curing cancer and AIDS," he

 >From May through September this year, evangelical preachers
from America and Africa held mass "healing" sessions that were
attended by tens of thousands of Swazis. Advertisements for the
events promised AIDS cures.

Meanwhile, it is still culturally taboo to admit one's HIV-
positive status. Psychiatrists say the strain of secrecy adds to
stress caused by the medical condition.

"People can snap, and become irrational. They grasp at anything
that offers hope," said Dr Thandie Malepe, director of the Na-
tional Psychiatric Centre.

A private medical practitioner in Manzini who preferred not to
have his name used, said the problem is that Swaziland has no
drug-testing facility to verify the safety and efficacy of medi-

Ironically, it was the lack of such a facility that former
health minister Dr Phetsile Dlamini cited as the reason to ban
antiretroviral (ARV) drugs from Swaziland. As a result, Swazi-
land was excluded from a 14-nation US-financed programme to use
ARVs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Swaziland's exclusion from the programme was reportedly a con-
tributing factor to the kingdom's absence from President George
Bush's multi-million dollar African initiative, the President's
Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

The minister's controversial stance delayed ARVs for five years.
Only now are they starting to trickle into the country.

"Proven life-saving medicines are denied the Swazi people. But
any charlatan can peddle any 'cure' he likes, and the health
ministry won't lift a finger," said activist Dlamini.


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