By Banna Sabally
In January 2007, former President Yahya Jammeh announced to the world that he had received a “mandate from God” to create a cure for HIV/AIDS. This cure was in the form of herbal treatment.
The announcement shocked the world and the scientific community who have tried for years to find a cure for HIV/AIDS without a success. Jammeh claimed that he came across this cure from 7 herbs found in the Qur’an.
Following his extraordinary claims, he established the Presidential Alternative Treatment Programme (PATP) – which was later found to be “a fraudulent and bogus treatment” with no scientific rigour behind it, coupled with his expansive claims that he could cure the virus within 3 days. Many people living with HIV/AIDS joined his programme with the hope to be cured.
But after his defeat in 2016, it was revealed by the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) that Jammeh and his enablers, conscripted innocent victims living with HIV/AIDS into his programme and gambled with their lives by instructing them to stop taking antiretroviral drugs. Many of his patients who stopped taking the drug following his instructions later died.
What Jammeh did
The Truth Commission held that Yahya Jammeh forced people living with HIV to partake in his treatment programme. He further adopted coercive and intimidating tactics, forcing his victims to give false statements in favour of his treatment.
The first batch of patients conscripted to Yahya Jammeh “bogus treatment never consented to the treatment”, according to the TRRC which held hearings on the President’s Alternative
Treatment Programme to investigate whether the former President had violated any
human rights during his delivery of that treatment.
“They were forced by Yahya Jammeh using the dictatorial powers he had bestowed upon himself,” the Commission found. “Patients who subsequently and willingly joined the programme were not sufficiently informed of the risks, thereby giving them the opportunity to have informed opinions and determine whether to consent or not.”
Yahya Jammeh’s patients suffered numerous violations which included false imprisonment. Their mobility was severely restricted; they were denied visits from loved ones, and were constantly under the guard of State Agents.
Some of the participants were sexually abused by Yahya Jammeh and members of the PATP team. The former President also found to have sexually assaulted patients by massaging his bogus herbal concoctions on patients’ private parts which disregarded patients’ right to dignity and privacy.
The Commission also revealed that patients were subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and their right to privacy was violated. Patients’ names, HIV/AIDS status, faces, and CD4 count results were broadcast on national television without their consent or approval.
Patients’ right to health were violated as the former President’s alternative treatment stopped them from taking life-saving antiretroviral drugs and sceptrin, thereby causing HIV patients to develop full-blown AIDS. Patients admitted to the PATP in 2011 were also denied the right to vote; they were kept in isolation and prevented from voting.
Yahya Jammeh was found to have accused some of his PATP patients of being witches and wizards who tried to sabotage his AIDS treatment. As punishment, they were left to suffer, neglected, and kept in isolation.
Yahya Jammeh’s bogus HIV/AIDS treatment did not only endanger the lives of many living with HIV/AIDS but also caused the deaths of many on the programme. Patients were exploited and subjected to forced labour by Yahya Jammeh working on his cashew and rice farm without remuneration.
The Truth Commission also found that Yahya Jammeh admitted two children to his fraudulent and bogus PATP thereby violating the Convention on the Rights of the Child. He was also found to have used force to administer his concoction on at least one child resulting in the child’s critical illness and urgent need for hospitalisation.
When PATP was introduced in 2007, 8,000 people lived with HIV in The Gambia, but this number rose to 21,000 in 2018 due to Jammeh’s disastrous negligence.
The Presidential Alternative Treatment Programme has led to the death of many patients during and after the treatment and The TRRC was able to establish 41 of these deaths.
Can Jammeh Cure HIV/AIDS?
The Truth commission established in 2017, conducted in-depth research on Jammeh’s treatment programme. They have proven that Yahya Jammeh doesn’t have the know how to cure any form of illness.
It has concluded that the former Gambian leader is neither a trained or certified medical doctor nor a trained or certified herbalist.
He does not hold qualifications or academic credentials in either profession, and his alternative treatment programme was a mere sham. His programme was unproven and found to be fraudulent, and a direct abuse of power.
Who’s held responsible for violations?
Former president Yahya Jammeh was the main man behind the HIV/AIDS treatment. He used the powers he had to violated the rights of the patients. However, he did not do it alone. He was supported by few individuals, most of whom are professional medical doctors. Below is their profiles:
- Tamsir Mbowe is a former Health Minister and a professional medical Doctor. He endorsed the bogus treatment causing loss of life and served accomplice of Yahya Jammeh and his dangerous treatment. As a medical practitioner, he failed in his duty to uphold the standards and ethics prerequisites in his profession.
- Mariatou Jallow, then Director of Medical Health Services, was found by the Commission to have administered the bogus concoction to innocent victims on at least two occasions both under Yahya Jammeh’s direction. Notwithstanding her part in Jammeh’s fraudulent and dangerous programme, neither the participants nor the Commission adversely mentioned her as being part of the PATP or informed patients that they would be cured.
- Malick Njie, Director of Medical Health Services and Minister of Health at the time, during the early stages participated in this dubious programme under Jammeh’s directions. Notwithstanding his part in Jammeh’s fraudulent and dangerous programme, neither the participants nor the Commission adversely mentioned him as being one of those who administered the bogus concoction on them. He also was found not to have informed patients that they would be cured by Jammeh’s concoction.
- Ansumana Jammeh (and a fellow accomplice) was found to have endangered the lives of patients by purporting to be curing them of HIV/AIDS despite knowing that he had no proof or scientific basis to rely on confirming the effectiveness of the treatment other than Yahya Jammeh’s directions. Like Yahya Jammeh, Ansumana was not a qualified doctor or herbalist.
TRRC recommendations, government’s position
The Gambia Government has accepted all the recommendations of the Commission on the president’s alternative treatment.
Below are some of the notable ones mentioned:
- Yahya Jammeh and Dr Tamsir Mbowe to be prosecuted for negligence causing deaths of PLHIV who took part in the programme and were deprived from lifesaving treatment.
- Prosecution of Yahya Jammeh and Dr Tamsir Mbowe for the inhumane and degrading treatment meted out on PLHIV that took part in the treatment programme.
- Revoke Dr Tamsir Mbowe’s practising license indefinitely for failing to honour the medical code of conduct and for the role he played in the fake PATP.
- Yayha Jammeh to be prosecuted for admitting children into the PATP in violation of the provisions of the Children’s Act 2005 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- To ban Ansumana Jammeh from holding any position in the government at all levels and in any capacity.
- Strengthen existing regulations on the use of herbal medical products through the effective enforcement of the Medicines and Related Products Act, 2014.
- Impose penalties, criminal or otherwise, on healthcare workers that disclose the status of people living with HIV/ AIDS to anyone, including family members, without obtaining the prior informed consent of the PLHIV.
- Strengthen mechanisms and procedures on ways to discipline medical personnel who violate the rules and regulations governing the conduct of medical practitioners
Would Jammeh and Dr. Mbowe be prosecuted for ‘intentionally and knowingly’ causing deaths?
Former President Yahya Jammeh and Dr. Tamsir Mbowe might not be prosecuted for murder, for intentionally and knowingly causing the death of People Living With HIV.
“The evidence led before the Commission was not sufficient enough to establish that former President Yahya Jammeh and Dr. Tamsir Mbowe had intended to cause the death of the patients,” the Government stated in its Whitepaper.
The government also stated that the availability of such “direct evidence of intent” will be crucial in sustaining a charge of murder. The government directs the relevant authorities to conduct further investigation and for President Yahya Jammeh and Dr Tamsir Mbowe to be dealt with according to law based on the outcome of the investigations.