By Nelson Manneh
Fatou Jatta, a witness before the TRRC has alleged that nine people died from former President Yahya Jammeh’s HIV Treatment Programme.
Jatta appeared before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission Wednesday, 15th July 2020.
Fatou Jatta said there were people who died after undergoing the treatment programme by the former head of state who claimed that he can cure HIV & AIDS. She testified that there was a batch where seven people died during the treatment and two died after they were discharged.
Madam Jatta said former President Jammeh was deceiving the whole world that he can cure HIV which according to her was not true.
The witness said she got HIV & AIDs in 1995 and at that time she was not sick. She said it was after she underwent a Hiv/Aid test at MRC that she knew she contracted the disease.
Jatta joined a group of HIV & AIDS patients’ dubbed ‘Santa-Yalla’ group. She said ‘Sant-Yalla’ was a strong group and they were supporting each other including counselling each other. She said now there are eleven groups and two networks working to support people living with HIV Aids.
The witness said the group used to go out to sensitize people on HIV & AIDS. She said she was the first woman to come out and tell people that she contracted the virus.
The witness said after she received her test results, she was told that the virus has no cure and she will not survive more than two months. But she was quick to say that she is still living.
“A person can live with the HIV Virus for many years if the individual can control it, take the medication and eat good diet. To me to have HIV is better than having diabetes and high blood pressure,” she said.
Madam Jatta said she used to take prophylaxes, multivitamin and other medicines.
She said there was a day in 2006 when ex-President Yahya Jammeh invited them to the State House and during their discussion, the former President told them the work they were doing was good and he was ready to support them.
The witness said as they were about to go home, Yahya Jammeh told them to have a family picture and after they did that Jammeh called their coordinator one Rose and asked her whether all those beautiful women have HIV AIDS and Rose responded to him in the positive.
She said Jammeh once gave them some herbs in a bottle on condition of anonymity claiming that the herbs were the cure to the virus. She said the herbs were given to some of them and whoever asked them who gave it to them, ‘we used to tell them the person does not want to be mentioned.’
The witness said on the 18th January 2007, while at home, her coordinator (Rose) called and informed her that she received a call from the Vice President’s office that she was selected to be part of the HIV & AIDs treatment programme.
She said on the 19 January 2007 when they went to the State House, they were welcomed by the then Vice President Isatou Njie and Yahya Jammeh came out with Dr Malick Mbow who took their names, age, sex and the date of their first diagnosis. She said Jammeh gave them the rules of his treatment programme in which he decreed that no one was allowed to take drugs or smoke during the course of the treatment.
She said after taking their details, a cameraman came and started filming them, but some of them covered their faces. However, Dr Mbow told them that the president just wanted the film for reference.
She said she was the second to be called by the former President. She testified that she was asked to remove her clothes and wear a towel. After that, she was asked to lie on a stretcher and the former President began the treatment. She said Jammeh poured liquid on his hand and prayed on it and told her to rub it on her face.
She said Jammeh then rubbed lotion on her body and Cuban Doctors stood aside while the camera was filming her.
She said she was asked to remove the towel on her body and she became naked. She said they were rubbing the lotion on every part of her body including her private parts.
She adduced that after the treatment; she became unconscious after taking the local herbs and she was taken out.
She said she cannot say whether the medicine given to her was brown or black. She said from there she lost her appetite to eat and she vomited.
She said she couldn’t get up on her own at the place she was lying down. She added that they were taken to the Kanifing General Hospital for admission, but at that time the hospital was not equipped.
She said they were all taken in one room, but none of their family members was aware of their admission. She said they were together with people who did not contract HIV & AIDS.
She said the following day, they were then collected and taken back to the State House and Jammeh did the same thing. She added that anytime they applied the lotion on them, they were asked to drink the local medicine too.
The witness said they were taken to Jammeh’s farm where they were forced to work.
She said there was a day when they were taken to Kanilai at night and they met a man called ‘Tamba Jiro’ (a ‘witch hunter’). She said Tamba had a big calabash, adding they were all forced to inhale smoke and were asked to take something from the calabash while the camera was on them.
The witness said some people were urinating on themselves and those who failed to answer questions properly, were labelled either as witches or wizards.
She said some people declared that they were cured while they were not, adding they were told that their samples were taken to Senegal where they were tested.
“What I observed in the whole process was that there was no truth in it,” she said.
After six months of admission, she was discharged and enrolled as a nurse assistant. She said when she was discharged from the treatment, she was tested at MRC and she was still positive.
She said at the time she was afraid to say anything negative about Jammeh’s HIV & AIDS treatment programme, adding that was why she said positive things about it.
“I was did not have any option other than to praise him. Anybody who was interviewed must say something positive about the treatment,” she said.