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U.N. Should Condemn Promotion of Unproven Treatments for HIV/AIDS in Gambia, Iran, Human Rights Watch Says

March 7, 2008

Human Rights Watch in an article published last week in Globalization and Health said that the United Nations and its member countries are not doing enough to address the dangers posed by claims of HIV/AIDS cures and counterfeit antiretroviral drugs, Panapress/Afriquenligne reports. According to the article, policies in The Gambia and Iran "deserve particular scrutiny" because officials in both countries "have been directly involved in the promotion of unproven" treatments for HIV/AIDS, Joseph Amon, director of HIV/AIDS programs at HRW, said. He added that the United Nations and other international bodies have not condemned their promotion of "fake cures" (Panapress/Afriquenligne, 3/4).

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh since January 2007 has claimed that he can cure HIV/AIDS with a treatment that involves application of a green paste, as well as application of a gray-colored solution splashed on people's skin and drinking a yellowish tea-like liquid. Jammeh said people taking the treatment should refrain from drinking alcohol, tea and coffee; eating kola nuts; and having sex. Public health workers' biggest concern is that Jammeh asks HIV-positive people to stop taking antiretrovirals, which weakens their immune systems and makes them more prone to infections, according to Antonio Filipe, World Health Organization regional adviser in Senegal.

The International AIDS Society in a statement released in April 2007 said that Jammeh's claims are wrong and that some of his data supporting the treatments are false (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/26/07).

In addition, Iranian Health Minister Kamran Baqeri Lankarani has announced that researchers in the country developed a medicine made solely from native plants that bolsters the immune system and "slows the replication of HIV," according to the article. Although Lankarani
does not appear to have called the treatment a "cure," media reports from the region have, and the treatment has been promoted by the Iranian Institute for AIDS Research as a "therapeutic vaccine," Amon writes (Amon, Globalization and Health, 2/27).

According to the article, the global health community has not addressed Jammeh's claims or the availability of antiretrovirals in the country. Amon added that "hundreds of people" in The Gambia have taken Jammeh's treatment, but authorities in the country "have failed" to say whether people taking the treatment "had freely volunteered to do so." In addition, authorities have not provided "independent verification of the health outcomes" of people taking Jammeh's treatment, according to the article.

HRW in the article called on the United Nations to pressure countries that are promoting unproven treatments to "provide complete, accurate information about effective HIV/AIDS treatment and to correct false and misleading information about unproven therapies." The article added that the "failure of governments to monitor" claims of a cure for HIV/AIDS is undermining "global efforts to fight AIDS."

Amon added that the United Nations should "work with governments and civil society groups to ensure that effective AIDS treatment and information about [the disease] are provided" (Panapress/Afriquenligne, 3/4).

Online The article is available online (.pdf).

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