Friday 7 November 2014

Danger to our health

Our Facebook group has been on fire recently. Various issues have been raised and the members of the group have been very busy commenting. It’s been rather heated.

It began with a comment from someone calling himself “MajorProphet Richard Watatua”. His comment was simple but remarkable:


He later claimed that:


Despite my grammar police tendencies we’ll overlook his spelling and his use of capital letters. Instead we should look at what he’s actually offering. He claims to be able to heal people of AIDS and HIV infection.

Before I go any further I need to stress that this isn’t an attack on religion in any way. Instead this is an attack on the scandalously dangerous claims he’s making. In a country that is badly affected by HIV we have to deal with these issues very carefully.

As a nation facing enormous challenges we’ve done very well. The distribution of ARVs and the PMTCT program are both great achievements and they have contributed towards the great recovery in our lifespan and general quality of health. I believe that anything that threatens those achievements is criminal.

Before you claim that it’s not actually criminal, it’s just offensive, let me refer you to Sections 396-399 of the Penal Code. This describes “prohibited advertisements” that include offering treatments for a range of disorders, including “venereal diseases” which certainly includes HIV infection.

The majority of the members of our Facebook group were outraged by this charlatan’s offers. They posted messages like “he should be reported to the authorities”, that he should “be arrested”, “it's sad how gullible we are” and (my favourite), “why don't these guys go to Marina and Nyangabgwe and heal the sick there?”

The situation is actually very simple. People like “MajorProphet Richard Watatua” pose a danger to our nation’s health and they should be stopped before they cause serious damage. If just one person believes his lies and stops taking his or her anti-retroviral medication and suffers then he’ll have blood on his hands. He’s no different to a drug-dealer or mugger.

We also had a return visit from a previous star of the Facebook group. The self-styled
“Healer Nkunumbi” also made some extraordinary claims. His post said:

“lost lover, Marriage problems, stop your partner from cheating on you, Men and women who can’t have Babies. Breast, Hips, Bums, penis cream/. Business boost, Penis Enlargement and power in all sizes. Win court cases, promotion at work. Is your situation getting worse? Find us in Gaborone, Botswana Cell phone: +267 75988645”.

I contacted the “Healer” and asked him a few questions by SMS. I asked “Can you help my wife to have a baby?” His answer was simple: “Yes”. I asked if he could cure fertility problems. “Yes”. Finally I asked if he could cure cancer. “Yes”.

He’s yet another danger to our health, peddling miracle cures and remedies that are clearly nonsensical. What’s more I believe he’s a threat to women in particular.

The last time he was around we called "Healer Nkunumbi" to hear what he said. A colleague pretended to be having problems getting pregnant and asked if he could help. You can listen to the 4-minute call when he says he can assist if you visit our blog or Facebook group.

Of course this is all very silly. If you’re feeling charitable "Healer Nkunumbi" is a rather comical character with his preposterous claims and his ridiculous offers of miracle remedies.

But he’s not just funny. He’s also dangerous.

I worry about the vulnerable people who might, as a result of desperation and despair, resort to his offerings. A woman with fertility problems or an illness might be tempted to give him a try if everything else has failed. So where’s the harm in that, you might ask, if everything else has failed?

The first potential harm is doubt. Who actually is this guy? What are his qualifications? What skills does he actually have, if any? We have no real idea what and who he is.

Then there’s the chance that he might actually do something rather than just talking about it. When he sees a woman with fertility problems is he going to examine her? Is he going to touch her? Given the nature of her problems a real doctor would obviously do a detailed physical examination so he’s probably going to feel like he should do so too. How would you react if you heard that an unknown man had touched your mother, sister, daughter or partner in such a way? I know what my reaction would be.

Then there’s the risk that he’ll offer her some sort of treatment for her condition and who knows what that might be. Chances are it’s be some entirely useless herbal concoction but there’s a chance whatever he gives her might actually have an effect and that’s dangerous.

Unlike the Panado you buy from a pharmacy where you can be certain that every tablet contains exactly 500mg of paracetamol, you have no idea what so-called traditional healers are giving you or what effect it might have. That’s why the majority of people see no effect whatsoever and the rest often end up dead.

If we don’t stand up to these charlatans and their bogus treatments and medicines then we are likely to undo all of the progress we’ve made in the last few years in improving our nation’s health. It really is that serious.

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