By Momodou Jarju
A Lab technician under the Disease Control Department at the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital (EFSTH) in Banjul told the Truth Commission (TRRC) that former President Yahya Jammeh’s HIV/AIDS Alternative Treatment Program (ATP) was false and meant to swindle people.
Landing Momodou Faal, who was the head of the hematology and overseeing the Infectious Disease Clinic (IDC) at that time, said president’s treatment was designed to achieve nothing but “to empower the president so that we will know that yes he’s a herbalist.”
“There was never a cure,” Faal said on Thursday while testifying before the TRRC. “I know definitely it was a hoax, is not possible.”
Faal said he felt very uncomfortable at that time knowing that the president’s treatment program was a hoax, adding there is no cure for the HIV virus.
Faal testified that he started working on the then President Jammeh’s treatment in 2007, a program he said was the first of its kind in the country.
The HIV expert said Jammeh wanted to show the world that his treatment was effective.
Faal said his area of expertise is testing HIV and that was the reason why he was handpicked to be part of the president’s treatment program. He added that he was the only one who was trained to do CD4 counts.
Faal explained that CD4 counts, is a white blood cell and it means Cluster of Differentiation marker four.
“We have different types of CD4s,” he added.
Faal said the CD4 counts test was designed to monitor the immune system to establish whether the patient’s CD4 counts is normal or otherwise.
Asked whether it was meant to test the veracity of the immune system, Faal replied in the positive. He said when somebody’s CD4 has gone down below 200; the patient should resume taking conventional medicine.
Faal said the viral load is another testing of the HIV virus which establishes the amount of HIV virus or particles in one’s system. He said with proper treatment, the viral load goes down and the virus becomes undetectable.
Faal said anti-body testing also exits. Asked whether the anti-body will be the accurate way to prove one has HIV virus or not, Faal responded in the positive.
He said initially one Mr. Abdoulie Bachilly, also a lab technician, was attached to the presidential treatment programme and he was the one bringing samples to him for testing.
Asked by Counsel Sagar Jahateh whether it was normal for a staff to be taken for the presidential treatment, Faal replied that it was completely abnormal.
He said they follow standards operational procedures on whatever they do.
“The procedure is the patients will come with their request forms, go to the reception, give it to the receptionist, the person will check the forms, correspond with your name, even ask you further to confirm,” he said.
Thereafter, he said the patients’ blood, urines, etc. samples will be taken. For the CD4 count testing, he said they would only take patients’ blood.
Faal said they don’t put the name of the patient who is HIV positive, but they put in code number. He said the procedures of the presidential treatment were against theirs.
Asked why they allowed the procedures knowing they were not the standards procedures, Faal said he had instruction to carry on from his boss and he followed the instruction. Asked again under what conditions they were operating then, he said losing their job would be the easiest thing to happen. He said if they don’t follow, they could be picked up and tortured.
He said he worked less than a year before the testing was transferred to somewhere. So you dealt with samples for less than a year, asked Counsel Jahateh and Faal responded in the positive.
Testifying further, Faal said he dealt with the first to the third batches of patients. He said out of 100 samples that were brought before the lab for testing, about 70 of them needed urgent treatment because their CD4 counts were low.
Faal said some viral tests were taken to Senegal, Morocco and Egypt for testing because at that time The Gambia did not have the equipment to conduct the testing. He however said the anti-body testing was available in country.
The witness said he could not recall the hospitals and the results of the tests taken and recorded respectively outside the country.
Faal, an art student but studied health science, said the tests that have been performed may not have been authentic because the standard procedures were not complied with.
He said had it been the standard procedures were followed, all the test results would be on the records.
Asked to tell the commission why there were no records at the time, Faal said there was no document to show them the results of the testing and that the results were just announced. Faal admitted that the patients were not making formal request to be tested.
“I don’t physically see the patients,” he said.
Faal said therefore he did not know where the samples were coming from. He said Bachilly was the one who used to bring the samples to him for testing and he could not verify where the samples came from.
He said the samples did not come with names, but only code numbers. He assumed that different samples could be taken from one individual and made to be from different people.
According to Faal, no nurse or doctor will inform a HIV patient that he or she don’t have the virus even if it is undetectable. He said undetectable and being negative are quite different, explaining that being undetectable does not establish the patient is negative or positive.