TANZANIA: Authorities urge caution on popular "cure-all" herb
Authorities say there is no scientific proof that the herbal concoction cures HIV
DAR ES SALAAM, 4 April 2011 (IRIN) - As thousands of people flock to the north of Tanzania in search of a popular herbal "miracle" cure, authorities are urging HIV-positive people to continue taking their antiretroviral medication.
A herbal concoction made by Ambilikile Mwasapile, a former Lutheran pastor, has drawn thousands to his home in the village of Loliondo in northern Tanzania's Ngorongoro district; believers claim it can cure several diseases including diabetes, tuberculosis and HIV. Patients pay 500 Tanzanian shillings - about US$0.33 - for one cup.
"I am advising the people who are HIV-positive and on ARVs, as well as the diabetics and those with other conditions, to continue with medication," said Hadji Mponda, Minister of Health and Social Welfare. "As far as we are concerned there is no scientific proof that the popular herb treats such diseases or of its impact on people already on medication."
Mwasapile is reported to be seeing up to 2,000 people a day, with a queue of more than 15,000 still waiting; reports say several public figures - including government ministers - have sought treatment.
Over the past month, Tanzanian news outlets have reported the deaths of more than 50 patients either en route to Loliondo, while queuing to see Mwasapile or shortly after receiving the "cure".
Bennet Fimbo, an adviser to the Ministry of HIV/AIDS, said he had been told of several testimonies by HIV-positive people who claimed they had been "cured" by Mwasapile's concoction. However, no hospitals have confirmed that anyone has tested negative after seeing Mwasapile.
In March, a team of experts drawn from the Chief Government Chemist, the Tanzania Drugs and Food Authority, the National Institute for Medical Research and the Muhimbili National Hospital endorsed the herb as safe for human consumption.
"Yes, the herb has been cleared, it is not toxic, but that does not guarantee its potency on the myriad diseases it is said to cure," said Mponda. "It will take long, perhaps many months or years to come to a scientific conclusion."
The village of Loliondo is littered with empty plastic containers and human waste, as people queuing have no sanitation facilities. Tanzanian Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda has promised to supply tents and build a dispensary in the village to treat patients needing medication before or after getting the herbal drink. He further directed local government authorities to be on alert against possible outbreaks of communicable diseases.