World News

Former Gambian leader sued over fraudulent AIDS cure

Posted May 31, 2018 12:50 p.m. EDT

— Three survivors of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh's HIV/AIDS "cure" have sued the former leader in a lawsuit filed Thursday in the nation's high court.

The plaintiffs are seeking financial damages for harm suffered and a declaration from the high court that their human rights were violated, the advocacy group AIDS-Free World said.

All three victims underwent a treatment program administered by the government that Jammeh claimed was a cure for HIV/AIDS. Jammeh announced he had discovered a cure for the disease in 2007 in front of a group of foreign diplomats, telling them the treatment was revealed to him by his ancestors in a dream.

"My experience in the presidential treatment program was a horror," Fatou Jatta, a plaintiff in the case, said in the AIDS-Free World statement. "I could have lost my life."

Jammeh, a former army colonel with no medical training, claimed a certain mixture of herbs and spices would cure the disease that has plagued Africa for decades. The murky brown concoction was taken daily and lathered on the skin, often causing violent illnesses, according to AIDS-Free World. Jammeh would also pray over patients as the mixture was administered in government facilities.

The treatment sparked immediate outrage among health professionals, who claimed there was no medical basis to support the treatment and urged patients to continue taking anti-retroviral drugs.

The UN envoy to Gambia, Fadzai Gwaradzimba, was expelled from the country after warning the concoction had not been assessed by the international health community and advising patients to continue normal treatment.

"There is no cure for AIDS. When an individual of great power claimed otherwise, human health was jeopardized, lives were cut short, and a deadly epidemic was prolonged --- all in the service of the insatiable ego of Yahya Jammeh, one of the great villains of modern times," Sarah Bosha, AIDS-Free World's legal research and policy associate, said in a statement.

The treatment program ran from 2007 until 2016, when Jammeh lost a national election. After first rejecting the election results, Jammeh left the country for Guinea amid the prospect of military intervention from neighboring West African nations. Jammeh had led the country for over two decades after taking power in a 1994 military coup.

It remains unclear how many people underwent the treatment or the full consequences from people forgoing their anti-retroviral drugs.

"Jammeh must pay for what he has done to us," said Lamin Ceesay, another plaintiff in the case.

CNN was unable to contact Jammeh or a representative for him.