[LILONGWE] The World Health Organization (WHO) has implicitly disputed claims by the Gambian president Yahya Jammeh that he has found a cure for HIV/AIDS.
The president's unsubstantiated but well-publicised claims to have "perfected a treatment for the AIDS virus" using herbs and bananas were reported by the Gambian and international news outlets in February.
The Gambian department of health has released statements saying that in some patients the HIV virus was no longer detectable.
The treatment's secret ingredients, according to minister of health Tamsir Mbowe, are Jammeh's "family knowledge of traditional medicine" and "the teachings of the holy Koran".
But a statement released in Congo Brazzaville this week (27 February) by the WHO does not endorse Jammeh's claims, maintaining that "so far, there is no cure for HIV infection or its most severe form of disease — AIDS".
"WHO and UNAIDS are not associated with the treatment for AIDS announced by the president of the Republic of Gambia," it states.
Antiretroviral treatment offers the best hope for AIDS patients, say the WHO, as it interrupts the HIV virus's replication process, improving a patient's quality of life and survival.
They urged patients not to discontinue medical treatment, saying "Herbal remedies cannot take the place of comprehensive treatment and care".
The WHO offered to help The Gambia assess the safety, efficacy and quality of the proposed treatment. So far the president has refused the support.
Ed Rybicki, a HIV researcher at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, told SciDev.Net: "If it [the claim] is true — which I most sincerely doubt — then he is doing the world a disservice by not spreading it as widely as possible."
"If it is false — which I most fervently believe to be the case — then he is quite possibly mentally ill, or severely deluded."
Jerry Coovadia, an HIV specialist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, told News Medical that the statements made by the president and the minister of health violate "every foundation of science and public health". He blames the country's political environment for allowing the situation to arise.
AIDS activists have also criticised Jammeh's claims, and say it could set back campaigns to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.Last month the UN Resident Coordinator in the Gambian capital Banjul, Fadzai Gwaradzimba, was expelled from the country after she criticised the president's claims.