By Yankuba Jallow
A protected witness who is a medical practitioner on Thursday, 15th October 2020 told TRRC that ex-President Yahya Jammeh’s HIV & AIDS treatment was false.
The witness said HIV & AIDS until today has no known cure adding the ex-head of state couldn’t cure any of the patients who joined his treatment programme.
The witness submitted that there is “our National HIV Guidelines that are linked to WHO 2013 Consolidated Guidelines.” He said the HIV treatment guidelines are provided for, used for and sometimes some parts of it are regarded as standard operating procedure used on the treatment table or offices, but they are intended to all providers of care – this is a very comprehensive guideline.
The witness said he was a member of the national HIV & AIDS treatment programme, but when the ex-President came up with his alternative treatment programme which was completely different from the conventional way, the number of people who used to come to them for treatment reduced significantly. He said people joined the President’s treatment programme with the hope that they would be cured, but their hopes were shattered because they were not cured.
“We were disappointed. The disease – HIV & AIDS treatment programme was used to mislead vulnerable people,” he said.
The protected witness is a medical practitioner. The witness is a physician and specialises in sexual and reproductive health specialising mainly on HIV & AIDS. He said he began his career on treating HIV & AIDS in 1991.
He said he had undergone series of training on HIV and AIDS in the United Kingdom. He said when he came back to the country in 1991 part of his services was largely clinical, but involved laboratory interpretation. He said from 2004, he left his original place of work and moved to an organisation which is more focussed for care for people living with HIV & AIDS. He said they used to provide patients with treatment, care and support.
The unidentified witness said before the coming of the ex-President’s treatment programme they used to receive and admit patients into their programme. He explained that there was a process that the patients undergo starting with counselling, receipt of consent and laboratory blood test. He said no one is tested for HIV & AIDS without obtaining the person’s consent. He said after the test the patient is told the results. He said before disclosing the test result to the patient, the person who counselled the patient would take time again to counsel the patient about what HIV & AIDS and then disclose the results. He said after this, the counsellor would caution the patient not to have sexual contact with his or her partner, not to donate blood or any organ of his body and encourage the person to join a treatment programme that involves care and support.
The witness said if the patient’s result turns out negative, the person who does the counselling would disclose the negative test result, give advice to the patient on how to remain negative of HIV & AIDS and encourage the person to come back for another test three months after the first test.
The medical practitioner said the commonest way of contracting HIV & AIDS is through unprotected sex.
He said it is not automatic that after having a positive test result the patient would join the treatment, care and support programme, adding the patient’s consent must be obtained. He said the person who does the counselling tells the patient the advantages of joining the ARV programme and if the patient consents, then he or she is enrolled into the programme. The witness said by the time the patient is enrolled he or she would have understand what HIV & AIDS is and the important thing to adhere to during the treatment process. He said the programme gives the patient both social and nutritional support.
He said the type of HIV & AIDS infection the person has and the level of seriousness would determine the type of treatment and drugs the person receives. The witness explained that the type of HIV determines the person’s Anti-retroviral Therapy.
He said it is inappropriate to begin treating a person for HIV & AIDS without following the protocols to ascertain the type of HIV and the level of CD4.
He said they first give the patient prophylaxis then septrin and deworming tablets.
He said the ARV drugs do not cure HIV/AIDS, but prevent or slow down the replication of the virus in the blood of the patient. He detailed that the overall quality of life significantly of life improve and the patient will not have frequent episode of opportunistic diseases like tuberculosis – the overall general wellbeing improves from weight, lack of temperature, appetite and he or she goes back to work. He said the treatment programme significantly reduces the potential of the patient contracting opportunistic diseases. He said it makes the patient less infectious to his or her partner. He added that 96% of the people who adhere to the regiments (treatment) cannot transmit the disease if their viral load is low.
He said the national HIV treatment programme was fairly successful before 2006 adding the patients and their families were cared for and supported in their education, nutrition and were given psychosocial social support. He said the children of the patients were trained on skills.
Ex-President Jammeh’s Treatment
In January 2007 former President Yahya A.J.J Jammeh announced publicly that he has found a cure for HIV & AIDS and began his alternative treatment programme. Patients began going for his treatment programme instead of the conventional way of treating HIV & AIDS which is non-curable disease.
The witness said most of the patients who joined the ex-President’s treatment programme did not inform the clinic about their intention to join. He said before the patients left for the ex-President’s treatment, they were been regularly monitored in terms of weight, CD4 and other parameters. He said when some of the patients joined Jammeh’s alternative treatment programme, they stopped coming to the clinic. He said the clinic, at this time, registered a temporal decline of patients who came to register and those that went for the treatment.
He said a year or two after some of the patients returned to clinic after undergoing the head of state alternative treatment programme.
“Some of the patients who returned to the clinic [after the President’s HIV & AIDS treatment] showed significant weight lost, developed what we called opportunistic infections in terms of Diarrhea and vomiting,” the witness said.
He said all those who come back the clinic consented to a repeat HIV & AIDS test and they were all found positive of the virus even after undergoing the former President’s Treatment Programme.
“From the available records, these patients were significantly poorer health wise from the time they left and the time they returned [to the clinic]. They were in poor health,” the witness said.
The witness said one of the patients developed a classical advanced HIV & AIDS.
He said the patients were promised by the ex-President that he has cure for HIV & AIDS, but after undergoing the treatment programme they still remain positive of the virus.
“The President’s Treatment Programme was false,” the witness said.
The witness said HIV & AIDS is a non-curable disease, but the ex-President was proclaiming that he has a cure which was not true.
He said with time, the patients gradually began coming back to the clinic when their hope for cure remained elusive, adding some of them died.
“They were seriously misled [by the ex-President]. Ultimately, they came back to us,” the witness said.
He said the national HIV programme was a national led HIV programme sponsored by the Global Fund and the National AIDS Secretariat (NAS) was the direct recipient. He said NAS is under the Office of the President.