For Deaths of 41 Patients
By Mustapha Jallow
In their recently submitted report to the President Adama Barrow, the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) held former president Yahya Jammeh and his doctors responsible for the deaths of forty-one HIV/AIDS patients, during his self-proclaimed 2007 Presidential Alternative Treatment Programme (PATP).
In its report, the TRRC said the PATP led to the death of many patients (HIV/AIDS) during and after the treatment, and that the Commission was able to establish 41 deaths as a result of the treatment program.
According to the Commission, all the witnesses who took part in the treatment disclosed that their health conditions deteriorated significantly after consuming the concoctions given to them, adding after they (witnesses) drank the concoctions, former president Jammeh would ask them about the colour of their faeces, which TRRC found very degrading.
“If the color was yellow, then that was normal and if it was green, it was a problem. They were forced to admit that they were being cured by Yahya Jammeh’s concoctions when in truth, they participated in the hoax to safeguard themselves from being victimized,” the Truth Commission explained.
It also indicated that one of the witnesses narrated the circumstances that led to the death of a patient, Fatou Ceesay, saying Fatou was virtually dragged and taken to the isolation unit of the hospital, where she subsequently died.
The witness referred here as MC73, further said that before her death, Fatou was still dragged to the isolation room and was left to die there, even after repeatedly telling them that she was well, adding as such, the witness said he felt he had no choice but to lie about the treatment being successful. The witness said he did this to save himself, because he strongly felt that his life will be at risk if he had said anything wrong or contrary to what Yahya Jammeh wanted to hear, the TRRC report indicated.
The TRRC report continued: “It was further revealed to the Commission by witness MC73 that about 15 patients died in the course of the PATP and he (witness) mentioned a few examples such as one Dampha, a very inspiring and industrious man, a Sarahuleh (a tribe in the Gambia) lady, who was a very prosperous business woman and Fatou Ceesay, who was brutally manhandled and inhumanely treated, as earlier mentioned.”
The report said that Fatou Jatta, another witness, also testified before the Commission that many people died as a result of the treatment; indicating that from Exhibit 146, she (witness) identified persons 1 to 7, as people who died during the treatment program and persons 8 and 9 as people who died immediately after the treatment program. It also added that Dr. Tamsir Mbowe, Dr. Malick Njie, Dr. Mariatou Jallow and the laboratory technicians, were invited to testify before the Commission to increase their understanding about the programme, and how it worked and its outcome.
Meanwhile, the Truth Commission also recommended for former president Jammeh, Dr Tamsir Mbowe and others to face trial for intentionally causing death to persons living with HIV/AIDS and other inhuman treatment.
During his interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), former president Jammeh told BBC the following statement about his ability to cure diseases: “I can treat asthma and HIV/Aids. Within three days, the person should be tested again and I can tell you that he/she will be negative. I am not a witch doctor and in fact, you cannot have a witch doctor. You are either a witch or a doctor.’’
‘‘In his self-proclaimed treatment program, former president Jammeh wanted to be a doctor because he felt something was missing in his life and wanted some self-esteem. Furthermore, he (Jammeh) was trying to bolster his legitimacy by portraying himself as having mystical powers and the ability to treat conditions that others could not,’’ the Truth Commission reported.
The TRRC report further shows that Jammeh did not consider the serious nature of the disease and went ahead to administer his fraudulent treatment on persons living with HIV/AIDS, with little or no opposition because the treatment was associated with incredible power and influence he had as president of the nation.
In addition to this, the Commission said Jammeh got rid of anyone who dared raise an eyebrow on what he was doing; citing
Ms. Fadzai Gwaradzimba, a UN representative, who was given 48 hours to leave Gambian soil as persona non grata, for saying that ‘claims of cures for AIDS could encourage sufferers of the disease to engage in risky behavior and make the AIDS problem in Africa worse’, adding that
in her comment, the UN representative did not directly mention Jammeh’s cure, but the dictator saw it as a threat or challenge to his treatment program and therefore made her leave the country immediately.
‘‘This sent a loud message that no one should dare question or criticise his HIV/AIDS cure programme. Jammeh requested for ten HIV patients from Santa Yallah Group, a support group for people living with HIV, to administer his unfounded and scientifically unproven cure to them,’’ the report said; adding the then Health Minister Dr. Tamsir Mbowe, backed Jammeh’s HIV/AIDS cure and was described as the most cruel doctor who helped Jammeh in murdering AIDS patients. The report further said that in November 2007, Dr. Mbowe was sacked as Health Minister, as embedded in a statement issued in November 2007 by the office of the President. Mr. Mbowe, who until then, was Jammeh’s right hand in his ongoing aids cure discovery, adding Dr. Mbowe, a Russian trained Medical Doctor, had been a staunch supporter of former president Jammeh’s aids cure discovery.
The report said the sacked Minister had earlier claimed that the Gambian President was in the position to cure HIV/Aids, but that his sacking came as a big surprise to many in the country, because no reason was been publicly advanced for his dismissal. Dr. Mbowe served as a Doctor at the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital for a couple of years but his professional ethics was put on the line, when he openly supported former president Jammeh’s claims of having cure for aids.
The report said that to many, the sacked Minister betrayed medical ethics by stooping so low to justify Jammeh’s false aids cure claims.
While serving as Health Minister, Dr. Mbowe told the BBC that herbal medicines are taken orally and applied to the body.
‘‘We cannot actually tell you the type of herbs we are using presently. It will be known to the whole world later on,’’ Dr. Mbowe once told the BBC.
Unfortunately, for far too long, the absence of local and international opposition to Yahya Jammeh’s purported claims, enabled him to continue to lead a health dictatorship in a political environment that lacked protection mechanisms for people living with HIV.
Jammeh’s Aids programme could be described as a health dictatorship that resulted in the violation of patients’ rights to health and other human rights, as will be discussed later.
‘‘This has amounts to a complete disregard for medical ethics, including denying full disclosure and information about the PATP cure. It also undermined patient autonomy and confidentiality,’’ the Commission said.
Additionally, the Truth Commission said Jammeh shaped a climate of fear that intimidated health care workers and policy personnel working on HIV, thereby affecting the quality of health care services for people living with HIV.