The World Health Organisation (WHO) says there is still no cure for HIV. But in many African countries, including Malawi, a number of herbalists claim that their herbs cure HIV. However, none has been officially recommended by authorities. Albert Sharra and Samuel Chibaya explore why the herbs are not getting a nod as HIV cure drugs.
In May 1995, herbalist Billy Goodson Chisupe stormed the nation with his Mchape herbal medicine, claiming it was a cure for HIV and Aids. Thousands of Malawians from across the country thronged his little hut in Machinga for their share of the wonder drug. It is not known if anyone really got cured of Aids, but he later fizzles out and soon everyone forgot about him.
Which is why when, early last year, Lilongwe-based woman, Gloria Jeremiah claimed she has a herbal drug that heals HIV and Aids and other diseases, most people dismissed it as another hoax that would pass with time, just as the mchape did.
Her Garani MW1 drug remains highly guarded. Over a year after she came into the limelight because of the herbal drug, Jeremiah still confidently challenges the world that Garani MW1 is a cure for HIV and Aids. She challenges any scientific expert to disprove her.
Jeremiah is a Master in Public Health degree student at College of Medicine. She is upbeat about Garani MW1, and its potential to turn around the HIV and Aids situation in the country.
Jeremiah states that Garani MW1 is available in powder form and is made from a locally found tree.
“It is taken with porridge made from maize flour with no sugar nor salt, one teaspoon per day, once a day for three consecutive days, repeated after a period of two weeks from the same pack.”
She adds: “Some people have been cured after taking only one pack while others may need to repeat the dose for the second or third time. All you have to do is to take it for three days, and then wait for two weeks to take it again for three days.”
Apart from having strong antiviral properties, Garani MW1 also positively affects the immune system.
“The medicine improves the immune system by increasing one’s CD4 cell count because viral replication is reduced to undetectable levels. The body is then able to fight opportunistic infections that come due to compromised immunity. People have tested non-reactive to HIV using both antibody and HIV/DNA/PCR tests,” Jeremiah says.
She says one starts to feel the effects of the medicine immediately after taking it. She says some of the opportunistic infections that have disappeared after taking Garani MW1 are; frequent and non-stop headaches, chest pains and breathlessness, chronic undefined coughs, skin rashes, other skin conditions, cancer, hair loss, swollen lymph nodes, poor eyesight, painful legs, asthma, unexplained weight loss, numbness in legs and other body parts, hormonal imbalances, general body weakness and pains, chronic wounds, diabetes, high blood pressure, loss of memory, cancerous growths, anaemia and skin discolorations.
In addition to curing HIV and Aids, there are some people that have taken the medicine, but did not have the HIV and have reported success stories on diseases and conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, stomach ulcers, sickle cell and other abnormal swellings in the body, amenorrhea, dysmenorrea and others.
“This calls for more research to be done to find out what else Garani MW1 is capable of doing apart from removing the HIV. Some people who had lost their shape due to the effects of the ARVs (lipodystrophy) have regained it even while taking the drugs,” she says.
But the fact that it is not authorised by government as a cure means, people that take the herbal drug should continue with any other medication prescribed by the doctors until otherwise advised by competent medical personnel.
But why is it proving hard to have herbs recognised by government as a cure for not only HIV and Aids but other diseases as well.
For Jeremiah, her journey started in 2008, and she has been to the corridors of Office of the President and Cabinet, Chancellor College, (Chemistry Department), Pharmacy, Medicines and Poisons Board, Malawi Blood transfusion (MBTS), Bwaila Hospital and other notable places.
“The results I got from all these places were encouraging,” she says.
However, she says she is a little frustrated that despite all the rigorous scientific analysis and proofs of the herb and blood tests signifying the disappearance of the HIV, the concerned stakeholders have not made any effort to closely look into the medicine and what it is doing.
Now the battle rests in her revealing the secret of the drug. Despite offering the herbs for laboratory analysis, Jeremiah says “instead of giving the results and making progress about patenting and certification, the officials in the laboratories that have handled it so far want to know the tree from which the herb is prepared.”
She has stood her ground never to reveal the name of the tree until all the processes have been done.
Professor Fanuel Lampiao, reproductive health physiologist at College of Medicine (COM), also discourages people from taking herbs that have not been scientifically tested and recommended safe for human health.
Lampiao, who is also a lecturer and researcher at COM, says there are many undesirable molecules in herbs which need to be removed before they are taken into the body.
“Herbs are not always good. There are a lot of molecules, some may be useful in killing of pathogens but others can be toxic to the body. So, we need to be careful when taking these herbs,” he says, adding that there is need for both government and herbalists to work together on the hunt for the drug, saying it might happen that the country has been neglecting an effective herbs.
Lampiao, who has done extensive research on how traditional herbs claimed to improve human reproduction system such as gondolosi, mvungutiand others, says he believes that some herbs really cure some diseases.
However, says Lampiao, the concern is over what next after taking the drugs.
“There is possibility that the herbs which some claim cure HIV really kill the HIV virus, but the real fact is that traditional herbs have many substances which react when in the body. The response can be positive or negative and this is what we call side effects. By standard expectation, a drug should only cure,” he says.
Lampiao says scientific drug testing is important in the sense that it helps to identify any toxic substances in the herb.
He adds that there are many steps that are omitted by herbalists who take their herbs to the market, one of which being prescription and details of substance concentration in the herbs.
“It is not easy for government to nod to any drug. A drug that can be put on the market should first undergo laboratory tests, indicate expiry dates, have dosage details, side effects and how it interacts with other chemicals in the body,” he says.
The physiologist also warned herbalists who carry herbal tests on human beings. He says this is illegal and should only be done on animals.
He challenges all herbalists who claim to have herbs that cure any disease to forget about the past and respect science. He says Malawi has the capacity to carry preliminary tests to any drug, with the next phases being done by World Health Organisation.
On the issue of patenting, Lampiao says there are steps that can be followed to safeguard ownership of any useful drug in the country.
Humphrey Mdyetseni, deputy director responsible for planning, research and evaluation in the Department of Nutrition, HIV and Aids, told The Nation of February 24, 2013 that government is introducing an HIV Policy to deal with people who make claims about HIV cures without scientific proof.
According to Mdyetseni, the policy bars herbalists, diviners, seers, soothsayers and anyone who thinks has a cure for HIV, to first prove it before being allowed to administer and claim as such.