Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Local talk-show presenters promoting dangerous quacks

A LOT OF PROGRAMMES ON television have started a very disturbing trend. Segments with religious content and special programmes especially on health issues are commonly presented on weekend breakfast shows, and some of the messages being propagated are deeply troubling.

This past weekend, for instance, one religious leader presented a man said to be suffering from HIV/Aids to his congregation.

The preacher indicated that the man was in ‘‘end-stage disease’’ from his own examination and evaluation. After a session of vociferous and boisterous prayer, the man was declared ‘‘healed’’ of Aids.

His activities raise serious questions about the role of religious bodies in health promotion and prevention of disease. This was not the first time this was occurring on this programme, nor was it the only instance that someone was ‘‘healing’’ serious illnesses on TV.

MANY KENYANS HAVE DEEP RESPECT for their religious leaders and will follow whatever prescriptions are decreed in the name of God. One shudders to imagine what this ‘‘newly healed’’ individual may do with his new-found status.

Another related phenomenon on other TV stations is the practice of inviting a particular expert on traditional medicine to pontificate on the ability of his special preparations to treat a myriad ailments.

This ‘‘expert’’ even proffers a theory of HIV/Aids that is completely at odds with the prevailing scientific opinion as to the causation of HIV and Aids.

He claims that a certain parasite, Paragonimus, is responsible for this global pandemic, and he prescribes an herbal concoction to clear this parasite and free one from the scourge.

This has been going on for quite some time now, and it is surprising the responsible authorities, including those in charge of the war on HIV and Aids, have done very little to directly counter the claims being made by these individuals who can be characterised as charlatans.

The responsible TV stations are also to blame for encouraging these people to continue making these claims to millions of unsuspecting viewers without presenting credible opposing opinions from experts in various health fields.

At a time when the war on HIV/Aids appears to be stagnating, it is dangerous to allow people to peddle falsehoods to patients desperate for good news.

Other well-publicised claims have emanated from a medical professor who over the years has made repeated claims to having ‘‘discovered’’ the cure for HIV.

Every new ‘‘discovery’’ is greeted with fanfare, but there is never follow-up to check if anyone has been put on the concoction and been cured.

As a scientist, the professor knows very well the rigorous burden of proof that is placed on any new pharmacological agents before they are even tested on humans. His claims, therefore, place him in the same category as charlatans who claim to cure every ailment on earth.

The people making these claims are doing a lot of harm to both their clients and their chosen ‘‘professions’’. Genuine traditional healers and religious leaders suffer a crisis of credibility due to the activities of these individuals, and it is time everyone started speaking out against this dangerous practice.

The truth must start being told loud and clear to counter these misleading claims. Left unchecked, our country will decline to the same level of ignominy that has become the fate of South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, who holds that a good shower after unprotected sex will help prevent HIV!

TO DATE, THERE IS NO KNOWN CURE for the disease caused by HIV. What are available are medications to reduce the viral load and to combat opportunistic infections and thus improve the individual’s quality of life.

Nutritional, psychological and behavioural interventions work hand in hand with these medications to help people with HIV/Aids to live as near-normal lives as possible. To purport to have a cure for HIV without subjecting it to rigorous testing and proof is therefore putting the lives of millions at risk.

To declare someone ‘‘healed’’ of HIV is tantamount to hastening their demise and exposing others to infection. Those doing this should be subjected to the full force of the law to discourage others from perpetuating the same fallacies.

Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine, Eldoret (