By Kunle Sanyaolu
A SMALL, innocuous story on the Human Immuno Deficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) appeared on page 3 of The Guardian on Monday, with the headline "Institute discovers herbal cure for AIDS, say forestry boss." The story was a short six-paragraph story. Even more striking, is the fact that only the first two paragraphs relate to the headline. It read: "Hope of a lasting cure to the dreaded HIV/AIDS brightened at the weekend as the Executive Director of the Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN), Dr. Solomon Badejo disclosed that the institute has discovered medicinal plants for the treatment of the disease and other similar ailments. An elated Badejo disclosed this in Ibadan Oyo State capital while conducting the Minister of Environment, Housing and Urban Development, chief Helen Esuene round the institute." The four other paragraphs in the story were about some achievements recorded by the institute over the years.
Perhaps the story was short because of the absence of details about the institute's discovery on HIV/AIDS. Certainly the report and statements credited to the Executive Director were sketchy. However, this is not a story one dismisses casually. The reason is that the HIV/AIDS scourge has been shown to be real endemic and spreading wildly. Years of research have not produced a cure to any popular level. In the past, claims of a cure have been subjected to much public scrutiny that often left the claimant emotionally bruised. The claim of one Dr. Abalaka is still fresh. Yet there is hardly any disease that has so much stigma attached to it like HIV/AIDS. This has to do partly with the fact of its being transmittable through sexual contact. The fact that HIV/AIDS can be transmitted through various other channels has not reduced its stigma. So, the public sees anyone identified with the disease as being sexually promiscuous, even if he contracted it through blood transfusion. Experts have said once that the stigma of HIV/AIDS is posing more burdens to some patients than the disease itself. Any claim of a cure must be handled thoroughly and explored fully. Africa owes a duty to itself to find a cure for HIV/AIDS. But it must be ready to contend with blackmail and international treacheries to discourage it and undermine her efforts. AIDS is real, but the western world is doing a lot to entrench not just the reality but the myth about it being incurable and rampant in Africa.
As the most populous black nation in the world, Nigeria can find a cure to HIV/AIDS. Blood-related diseases are many in Nigeria and Africa, the ready example being malaria. Even now, malaria is considered to be the greatest killer-disease in Africa. Orthodox medicine over the past 60 years has done a lot to reduce malaria-induced death. And we know also that malaria incidence can be reduced or managed by maintaining a clean environment, clearing bushes and stagnant water among others. More importantly, medical evolution over the years - with chloroquine and now artemisin-based therapies, are providing reasonable forces against malaria. Yet the battle is not won as the disease keeps adapting to the onslaught against it and developing resistance to the drugs. Malaria may be a common ailment in Africa now, but it is a most difficult disease to treat. To compound the problem in Nigeria is the high incidence of fake and adulterated or substandard drugs, which pose even greater danger to patients and the society. Yet, there are people who live in the midst of malaria infected environment and hardly ever catches malaria. Some of them don't know why. But others strongly believe their seeming immunity is due to their regular intake of herbal therapies. That is why in spite of orthodox medical reports frequently raising alarm about the high toxicity of some herbs and the absence of information about others, Nigerians cannot desist from taking them.
There is need for people like Dr. Badejo and other administrators of research institutes as well as medical centres to document their finding and present them to the appropriate ministries. The ministries of health, environment, science and others should be interested in what Badejo is saying. But the interest should not be limited to running down the finding or seeking to nullify it against some western standard. In the past, medical authorities have been too anxious to knock down a cure claim, much because it did not meet some western-set standard. The western world is never going to come to Africa's aid in the real sense of it because western countries are making a fortune from the HIV/AIDS campaign. They do donate huge sums to poor African countries to combat the scourge. But these gestures have always been offered with very stringent conditions that offer benefit more to the donor countries than to the aided ones.
The HIV/AIDS' industry is a big one. We in Africa probably may not easily know the extent to which the campaign is helping to sustain western countries. In the long run, we have to help ourselves in searching for HIV/AIDS cure. In the long run too, herbal medicine probably offers the greatest possibility. We need to get over the age- old stigma of holding traditional or herbal medicine as being difficult to document. When westerners say this, the intention is not to promote herbal cure in any form. And when Africans or Nigerians echo the statement, they are falling prey to western strategy to perpetually dominate us.
At the moment, many hospitals are turning down patients whose ailment they cannot understand. They brand them as being under spiritual attack. Many such patients actually respond to herbal treatment when given by authentic traditional doctors. And there are many of these doctors around who confidently lay claim to treating HIV/AIDS and other pandemics. What is lacking now is spirited effort by the health authorities to mobilise these people, subject them to rigorous test with a view to assessing their claim and finding a true cure. This will require a drastic and off-handed approach which unfortunately is apparently not being favoured. But we have to conduct research on blood-cleaning remedies through herbs and traditional medicine.
Apart from a cure for HIV/AIDS, orthodox medical research has also not been able to answer many questions on the issue. Researches conducted in countries where the scourge is widespread tend to show some people exposed to the risk yet seemingly immune from contracting the disease. Why? Some often test HIV-positive but never develop AIDS symptoms. Why? One thing is certain. The scourge is endemic and pervasive among very poor people with degrading environment. Certainly, it has close affinity to poverty, as poor people are less likely to feed adequately and are therefore likely to be less resistant to diseases. The HIV/AIDS is about a reduction in the body's natural ability to repel and fight diseases. Unfortunately, when Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa tried to make a case on poverty reduction as a way to perceive the disease, he was shouted down into submission. And his opponents simply point to growing incidence of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. The fact remains however that factors such as illiteracy, poverty and unhealthy environment support the spread of the disease.
One reason why Nigerians must face the initiative in finding herbal cure for HIV/AIDS is that anti-retroviral drugs that are presently meant to suppress the development of AIDS in HIV patients are expensive and not easily accessible by patients. They are manufactured largely abroad. Their importation is a big drain on the local economy. They are known to make patients very dependent on them such that once they are off the drug, their deterioration is rapid, as they cannot generate immunity or resistance. And the drugs are known to possess a large dose of unpleasant side effects that pose another set of health crises to patients.
Questions have been asked by learned medical professors in and out of Africa as to whether there is no international conspiracy about HIV/AIDS against Africa. Largely, the Western world tries to portray Africa as having the worst form of promiscuity and sexual practices. Is this true? Originally, HIV/AIDS was associated with homosexuals who are prevalent in the Western countries. Now, the same West tries to trace HIV/AIDS origin to some African monkeys. Nigeria has not sufficiently pondered on these questions for reasons bordering largely on bad governance. But we cannot continue to ignore them because in the long run, the HIV/AIDS ratio may very well be in form of Nigeria against the rest of the world. We may be able to avoid this stigma by finding herbal cure for the disease.
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