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Archive for June 9th, 2012

Snake oil salesmen and dodgy HIV “cures”

Posted by African Press International on June 9, 2012

Ubhejane – the traditional medicine which was said to help HIV-positive people boost their immune system

NAIROBI/JOHANNESBURG,  – In January, Uganda’s National Drug Authority  arrested sales representatives of a company selling a drug that purports to cure HIV; the firm’s owners are not licensed to sell medicine and are being sought by the police.

The drug, known as Virol ZAPPER, was being sold in 37ml liquid doses, each costing about US$210; patients were advised to take 10 drops daily. It was being advertised on local radio and TV stations as a miracle cure for HIV.

The sale of such “cures” is a profitable racket for charlatans willing to take advantage of desperate HIV-positive people; here is a collection of some dodgy treatments that have made the news in Africa over the years:

Tanzania – In 2011, tens of thousands of people from all over East Africa flocked to the tiny village of Loliondo in Tanzania seeking a cure for several diseases, including diabetes, tuberculosis and HIV. Ambilikile Mwasapile, a former Lutheran pastor, was charging 500 Tanzanian shillings – about $0.33 – for a cup for his concoction.

Several sick people died in the queues, which at their peak numbered 15,000 people. Studies are being conducted to determine the properties of Mwasapile’s treatment.

South Africa – A 2008 Cape High Court judgment ruled that clinical trials of multivitamins in the treatment of HIV/AIDS by controversial vitamin salesman Matthias Rath were unlawful, and stopped them. The court also prohibited Rath from publishing any more advertisements claiming that his product, VitaCell, cured AIDS, pending further review by the Medicines Control Council.

Rath, who had been operating in South Africa since about 2004, claimed his multivitamins treated AIDS, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, bird flu and numerous other illnesses. Rath ran numerous advertisements aimed at convincing HIV-positive people to take his high-dose multivitamins rather than ARVs, available free-of-charge through the public health system, which he claimed were “toxic”.

Kenya – In 2008, the government warned HIV-positive people in the country’s eastern Coast Province to reject herbal “cures” peddled by fake herbalists who claimed their concoctions contained unique ingredients that could boost the immune system and even cure HIV.

An estimated 80 percent of Kenyans use traditional healers either exclusively or in conjunction with western medicine; the government is drafting regulations to stop fraudulent herbalists from practising.

Gambia – In 2007, President Yahya Jammeh was roundly denounced by AIDS activists when he said he had found a cure for HIV/AIDS and began treating citizens. Shortly after his announcement, Jammeh expelled the most senior UN official in the country for questioning his “cure”.

The programme is still running, but more Gambians are choosing ARVs over Jammeh’s treatment.

Ethiopia – In 2007, thousands of HIV-positive patients flocked to Entoto, an ancient mountain north of the capital, Addis Ababa, seeking a “holy water” cure for AIDS after local priests said they could cure HIV.

The Archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abune Paulos, later advised patients to continue with their ARVs even as they sought healing at Entoto.

Photo: Allan Gichigi/IRIN
Governments often urge HIV-positive people to continue with their ARVs, even as they use alternative treatments (file photo)

São Tome and Principe – In 2007, questions were raised about Dorviro-Sida, or “Put AIDS to sleep” in Portuguese, an anti-AIDS herbal remedy produced by Amancio Valentim, president of the Association of Traditional Medicine of São Tome and Principe. Valentim claimed three tablespoons of the brownish syrup, taken every day before meals, could reduce the viral load and make patients feel better; he said four patients who had taken the drug for four years had tested negative for HIV.

AIDS activists were concerned the drug could make HIV-positive people complacent about taking their ARVs, and the health ministry said it did not support Valentim’s treatment.

South Africa – In 2006, a clinic in South Africa’s east coast city of Durban began to sell “ubhejane” – a herbal mixture believed to treat HIV/AIDS.

The controversial traditional medicine received vast media coverage, mainly due to the backing it received from influential political figures such as the former health minister, Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, and provincial health officials. Ubhejane, a dark brown liquid sold in old plastic milk bottles, had not undergone any clinical trials to test its efficacy. All that the tests confirmed was that it was not toxic.

But HIV-positive patients were far more willing to accept the traditional medicine as an effective remedy, flocking to the clinic to buy a full course of the herbal remedy that retailed at R374 ($40).

Uganda – In 2006, the Ugandan government banned the use of a popular anti-AIDS herb remedy known as “Khomeini”, after tests found it provided no cure. Iranian Sheikh Allagholi Elahi claimed the drug – which contained olive oil and honey and cost $1,650 per dose – could cure HIV/AIDS and TB in three weeks.

Studies by experts in Uganda and Kenya found that while patients had gained weight due to the nutritional content of the drug, it was incapable of curing HIV.

kr/kn/mw source

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Thousands of people have been displaced in North Kivu

Posted by African Press International on June 9, 2012

Some walk east, others west: thousands of people have been displaced in North Kivu

GOMA,  – Since fighting began in April between government soldiers and a large group of defectors from the regular army, North Kivu Province in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has become a spaghetti junction of human migration patterns; tens of thousands of people have been displaced. 

The movement of people might appear haphazard to the outside observer. Some walk east, others west.

For some, it is their third time to be displaced by conflict and many report negative experiences in camps. “You wait a whole day for one bowl of porridge, and there is violence,” said Jeremiah*, who is currently sheltering in a remote hospital on a hill in Rutshuru District which overlooks an anti-aircraft gun position. International NGOs have no presence here now – only the local Red Cross, which supports the hospital.

Jeremiah’s nine-year-old daughter was apprehended and raped while she and her grandmother were fleeing their village. He says the news killed him and that he is tired of war. But he says he will not cross the Ugandan border (less than 20km away) even if it does guarantee his family’s safety. “They make you go very far from your home,” he said.

Maria Domitilla Nyabayazana* is the only resident in Kabanda, a village now on the front line in the conflict on the edge of Virunga National Park. Suffering from a leg injury, Maria was abandoned when other residents fled two weeks ago. “I have heard bombs since this morning – everybody has left,” she said. Maria still carries out her daily chores, and eats the vegetables and fruits growing by her house.

“Close to 100,000 people have been uprooted from their homes by the recent wave of violence in… North Kivu, prompting renewed calls for better measures to protect civilians and more aid for distressed families,” said a 31 May press release from the UN humanitarian coordinator in the DRC.

“Since the beginning of April, thousands of families in North Kivu have had to flee for their lives, in the wake of violence borne out of desertions from the national army as well as ongoing military operations to bring under control illegal armed groups. It is estimated that some 74,000 people are now displaced in the Masisi, Lubero and Rutshuru territories, and several thousand more have found refuge in and around the provincial capital Goma,” it added. 

The army defectors or “mutineers” had previously been integrated into the army as part of peace efforts.

On 4 June, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Rwanda of supporting the mutinous troops, who are led by Gen Bosco Ntaganda, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

HRW said Rwandan military officials had allowed Ntaganda to enter Rwanda and supplied him with new recruits, weapons and ammunition. Rwanda has denied any involvement in the mutiny.

As villages become front lines, the most determined close their doors and hope for the best. “Yesterday, we listened to the armoury of the government,” said August Basiha, 20, outside his home in Rangira, as UN surveillance helicopters circled overhead. “This village was never taken in the past. We are staying,” he said, shortly after a convoy of trucks carrying special forces from Kinshasa and heavy artillery had passed.

Photo: Siegfried Modola
Congolese army soldiers stand guard in Rutshuru, North Kivu Province

Uganda the best option?

For others, however, Uganda is the best option: There is a relatively good road to the border, and trading opportunities in the busy border town. But some Congolese refugees say Uganda’s immigration officials are refusing them entry on the basis that “night commuting” is not allowed.

On one night in May, 7,000 people collected at the Bunagana border crossing, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). In response, Ugandan officials encouraged people to register. Those who did were transported to the increasingly over-stretched Nyakabande transit centre, 20km from the border and yet further from their crops and livestock.

At the border itself, UNHCR does not provide any assistance, nor register people, said Simplice Kpandji, a UNHCR public information officer in Goma: “The refugees are registered in the transit centre and assistance is also given to them there. For security reasons, we encourage them to move to the transit centre.”

In Bunagana, a Congolese town straddling the Ugandan border, the school is a temporary camp for many hundred internally displaced persons (IDPs). Jean-Claude* has a stall selling potatoes and miniature tubes of toothpaste. He says residents feel safe, and there are buildings for shelter and water. “But no one has any money and we’re not getting any food – there is only so long that I can stay here,” he said. 

Patchy aid delivery

A rapid response, led by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), is allowing aid workers to intervene and distribute essentials, but the government has made it clear that it does not want new official camps, and attempts by some NGOs to feed these people have been frustrated by bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, the government’s food distribution efforts appear to be ineffective. One international aid worker said the DRC minister of humanitarian affairs arrived in Rutshuru town (28km from Bunagana) and left a pile of food, but did not stop to ensure it went to those in need. The source, who asked not to be identified, said that even policemen took a share of the rations.

“We are facing difficulties as it’s quite impossible sometimes to have access to the people in the war zone. We need a humanitarian corridor to assist and protect people,” said Kpandji. UN agencies and international NGOs have been forced to pull staff out of a number of locations in the last two months.

*names have been changed at interviewees’ request


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Is federalism causing a problem

Posted by African Press International on June 9, 2012

Protestors have different ideas as to how the country should be set up

KATHMANDU,  – Just days before Nepal’s Constituent Assembly (CA) reaches its fifth deadline to agree on a new constitution on 27 May, the country remains divided over the issue of federalism.

“Debates over federalism and identity threaten to polarize Nepali society,” Anagha Neelakantan, South Asia senior analyst for the conflict resolution NGO, International Crisis Group, told IRIN in the capital, Kathmandu. “At the same time, politics and the constitution-writing process are at an impasse, and a constitutional crisis is possible.”

The 600-member CA, which also acts as the country’s interim legislature, was tasked in 2008 with drafting the next constitution after a decade-long civil war between Maoist forces and the government ended in 2006. Over 13,000 people lost their lives in the conflict and the nation of 30 million has been without an effective government since then.

On 15 May, the CA leaders made a hurried decision to restructure the former Hindu monarchy into 11 federal states, based on “multi-ethnic federalism”, meaning all ethnic groups, not just one ethnic group, would live in a single undivided state.

This rather than “identity and capacity based federalism”, in which a single ethnic group and its ability to be self-sustaining, along with geographical and economic considerations, would be the model used.

Unable to reach an agreement, the CA requested another three-month extension, but this was rejected by the Supreme Court on 24 May, which directed the government to promulgate a new constitution by the 27 May deadline.

“The proposal for 11 federal provinces was done haphazardly, with no names and without any principles,” said Prof Krishna Hachhethu, a prominent expert on federalism at Tribhuvan University, the country’s largest tertiary institution.

The issue has fuelled anger amongst Nepal’s indigenous ethnic groups, known as ‘Janjatis’, who have been staging protests and strikes throughout the country since mid-May in a bid to pressure the CA and the main political parties to restructure the state along the lines of identity-based federalism.

There are more than 100 ethnic and caste groups in Nepal, and according to the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN), the Janjatis represent 37.2 percent of the population.

“Most Janjatis have been exploited and still remain underprivileged and neglected by the government,” said Laxman Tharu, the leader of the Joint Tharu Struggle Committee.

There are an estimated 1.5 million Tharus spread across Nepal’s southern Terai Region and the Far West. They are considered one of the most impoverished and exploited indigenous ethnic groups, most of whom who have suffered bonded slavery, indentured servitude and landlessness, according to NEFIN, a non-profit organization formed by the Janjatis.

Photo: Naresh Newar/IRIN
Tight security security ahead of this weekend’s constitutional deadline

Since 2007, the Tharus have been demanding self-government in a Tharuwat federal province in the Far West region of the country, over 700km southwest of the capital. But high-caste groups like the Brahmins and Chettris, who live in the same region, have protested against their demands, fearing ethnic division and a loss of influence.

On 24 May, thousands of high-cast groups took to the streets in the Far West, demanding an “undivided nation” – ethnic-based federalism – which Janjati activists say is misinterpreted by protestors.

“For the first time, the Brahmins and Chettris are protesting against ethnic federalism with the slogan of an “undivided Nepal”, which is now a “major national issue”, said federalism expert Mohan Manandhar, director of the Niti Foundation, a policy research NGO.

“We all know that there can be no constitution without federalism based on ethnicity,” said Hachhethu. “The debate has started, and this is a good start, but we should not be too speculative, which has spread lot of fear among people about the country being divided.”

The issue has become deeply entrenched in Nepal’s mainstream society and politics. Much of one of Asia’s poorest nations has been at a standstill, with strikes in cities and towns harming an already fragile economy.

“Federalism is key to unite our multi-ethnic populations and provide hope for the marginalized to finally get a better political space and confidence,” said Raj Kumar Lekhi, chairman of NEFIN, which organized an “indefinite strike” last week before calling it off when the government agreed to meet with Janjati leaders.

“Now, politicians and other leaders need to urgently convene discussions with a wide range of groups to resolve their competing claims and enshrine commitments on federalism in the new constitution,” said ICG’s Neelakantan.

On 24 May, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Nepal’s political parties and other groups to ensure that its constitution-making process was concluded successfully.

“The Secretary-General is concerned about the prospect of the term of the Constituent Assembly expiring without the adoption of a constitution that meets the expectations and aspirations of the people of Nepal,” Ban’s spokesperson said in a statement that also called for calm and restraint. 


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