Gambian President to Build Controversial Herbal Medicine Hospital for HIV Patients

Needless to say, the president’s tenacious love for natural medicine has driven the World Health Organization and the United Nations crazy.

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Dressed in his typical garb of billowing white robes, clutching prayer beads and a sceptre, Gambia's president Jammeh greets supporters during a rally on November 22, 2011.

After shocking the world with his assertion that he could cure AIDS with herbal medicine in 2007, Gambian president Yahya Jammeh recently made another uproar by declaring his New Year resolution: build a hospital that has 1,111 beds to treat HIV and AIDS patients with boiled herbs by 2015.

“This being the case, I intend to build a one thousand, one hundred and eleven beds multipurpose hospital dedicated to treatment of HIV and AIDS patients,” said the president in his New Year’s address on Tuesday. “With this project coming to fruition, we intend to treat ten thousand HIV/AIDS patients every six months through natural medicine.”

It’s no secret that the president’s tenacious love for natural medicine has driven the World Health Organization and the United Nations crazy. Although HIV has a relatively modest presence in Gambia — 2% of its 1.8 million population — when compared to other countries in Africa, experts worry that his herbal treatments, which require patients to stop taking anti-retroviral drugs, make them more prone to infection, Reuters reports. Worse yet, the herbal drugs have no proven healing powers as opposed to the internationally-praised HIV drugs.

(MORE: When Was the Gambian President the Admiral of Nebraska?)

Jammeh, a former wrestler and U.S.-trained army lieutenant who came to power through a coup in 1994, has been treating patients inside his presidential palace, according to the Telegraph. Known in Gambia by his preferred title, “His Excellency Sheikh Professor Doctor President,” Jammeh said that his prescriptions of herbs and incantations have successfully cured many, including 68 patients in October. CNN reported in 2007 that the drug Jammeh concocted to treat HIV patients was “a murky brown concoction of seven herbs and spices served out of a bottle that once contained pancake syrup.”

His attentiveness to boiled herbs is only one of the many bizarre things about him. In 2009, he arrested more than 1,000 witch doctors at gunpoint, ordering them to down hallucinogenic drinks in the name of “exorcising” them, according to the Telegraph. His motivation behind such a puzzling act was murky, but according to Amnesty International, it was an act of vengeance for his aunt, who allegedly died from witchcraft.