Nigeria's flourishing 'miracle cure' business for HIV/AIDS

November 30, 2017

Blessing wanted to believe the advert on Facebook that promised "a cure for AIDS".

Infected with the (HIV), she felt the ad was her only hope—so against her better judgement, she clicked on the link.

The 30-year-old Nigerian had created a fake profile on the social networking site in the hope of contacting a traditional healer who would be familiar with modern technology.

For 100,000 naira—about $280 (230 euros) and more than five times the monthly minimum wage—she was promised a plant-based potion that would completely eradicate the disease.

Sceptical, Blessing asked for more time and a face-to-face meeting. Instead, her would-be benefactor asked for her bank account details.

That was several months ago.

"He talked only about money, so I gave up," said Blessing, whose name has been changed at her request. "But I was ready to try."

"There are so many people giving positive testimonies about the drug," she told AFP in a soft voice.

Since then, with the distribution in Nigeria of free antiretroviral treatments that repress the virus—but do not eliminate it—Blessing has been able to finish her studies in sociology in Abuja.

She said she now feels more comfortable with her HIV-positive status, but while she has a few business projects, the hardest thing has been finding a boyfriend.

"I was desperate. Any relationship I wanted to be in was difficult. I know I have to live with the virus," she said.

Power of prayer

Despair and stigma for people living with HIV make them easy targets for a range of supposed miracle workers, including internet scams, in deeply religious Nigeria.

Not a month goes by without a Christian pastor announcing that a follower has been "saved".

In Lagos, the commercial capital of more than 20 million people, vast and imposing evangelical churches have become a magnet for the sick from across Africa.

Among the most well-known faith healers is TB Joshua, who runs the Synagogue Church of All Nations, and whose popularity has earned him a multimillion-dollar fortune.

He prides himself in his claims of having cured people of AIDS and even in bringing the dead back to life.

His website is full of testimonies about his apparent powers of prophecy.

One on his TB Joshua Ministries page on Facebook is titled: "AIDS kicked out with prayer."

"Mr Ubon Augustine is a living testimony that no disease can escape the healing power of Jesus Christ," it reads. "He was healed of HIV/Aids through a prayer... Thank You Jesus!"

No scientific proof

Others also claim to have found the scientific cure for HIV, publishing research in obscure journals.

One such assertion, from a professor at an agricultural university in the southeastern state of Abia, garnered significant coverage in the Nigerian news media earlier this year.

Maduike Ezeibe claimed that after 25 years of research, he had successfully tested a drug he had developed on patients.

"Nigeria is thus (the) first country to get 10 people (to) recover from HIV/AIDS," he was quoted as saying by Nigeria's Guardian newspaper in March.

Nigeria's health agencies condemn such claims on the grounds of the "absence of sound scientific evidence" as well as the dramatic effects on patients if they stop taking conventional treatment.

HIV levels can fall to below detectable levels with the help of a daily pill, but rebound when the treatment is stopped.

The viruses swiftly reproduces to attack immune cells, exposing the body to opportunistic disease and worsening the risk of infecting others.

"If someone thinks he is cured of the virus when on the contrary he still has the virus, the risk of transmission will be higher," said Daniel Ndukwe of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA).

"We have had people claim they were cured of HIV by miracle healing, and we have also heard of those who later had a deterioration of their health afterward," he said.

No formal study has been undertaken in Nigeria to explore the phenomenon but there is no doubt that many have seen a market for apparent miracle cures.

Lucrative business

According to UNAIDS, prevalence of HIV among adults in Nigeria was 2.9 percent in 2016, which is relatively low compared to countries such as South Africa (18.9 percent).

But the actual number of people living with the condition—3.2 million—is among the highest in the continent.

Emmanuel Ugochukwu Michael, the founder of a match-making agency for people with HIV, says he is regularly approached by people asking for his 7,000-name database.

"I receive a lot of calls from traditional doctors and mainly from pastors," he said.

"They invite me for a dinner and promise to pay me money if I provide them phone numbers of my clients," he added.

"It's a lot of temptation. It gives me a lot of sleepless nights, I can tell you.

"There's huge money to be made and everybody wants to take advantage of it."

Explore further: Nigeria in first step towards all-clear on Ebola

Related Stories

Nigeria in first step towards all-clear on Ebola

September 24, 2014
Nigeria has cleared all patients being monitored for the Ebola virus, the federal health ministry said on Wednesday, but doctors said they would have to wait to declare the outbreak over.

As tide turns, AIDS claimed 1 million lives in 2016: UN (Update)

July 20, 2017
AIDS claimed a million lives in 2016, almost half the 2005 toll that marked the peak of the deadly epidemic, said a UN report Thursday proclaiming "the scales have tipped".

Africa gets generic version of most effective HIV drug

June 28, 2017
The generic version of the most advanced drug against HIV has been introduced in Kenya, a first in Africa where more than 25 million have the disease, the NGO Unitaid said Wednesday.

Nigeria Ebola free, president tells UN

September 25, 2014
President Goodluck Jonathan appeared to jump the gun on medical advice at home on Wednesday to tell an applauding UN General Assembly that Nigeria was free of the deadly Ebola virus.

Nigeria has only one Ebola patient: health minister

August 26, 2014
Nigeria said Tuesday that two more people had been released from isolation after recovering from Ebola, leaving only one living patient with the disease in the country.

Nigeria confirms five more Ebola cases, seven in total, 2 deaths

August 6, 2014
Nigeria on Wednesday confirmed five new cases of Ebola in Lagos and a second death from the virus, bringing the total number of infections in sub-Saharan Africa's largest city to seven.

Recommended for you

Study suggests a way to stop HIV in its tracks

December 1, 2017
When HIV-1 infects an immune cell, the virus travels to the nucleus so quickly there's not enough time to set off the cell's alarm system.

Discovery puts the brakes on HIV's ability to infect

November 30, 2017
Viewed with a microscope, the virus faintly resembles a pineapple—the universal symbol of welcome. But HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is anything but that. It has claimed the lives of more than 35 million people so far.

Rising levels of HIV drug resistance

November 30, 2017
HIV drug resistance is approaching and exceeding 10% in people living with HIV who are about to initiate or reinitiate first-line antiretroviral therapy, according to the largest meta-analysis to date on HIV drug resistance, ...

Male circumcision and antiviral drugs appear to sharply reduce HIV infection rate

November 29, 2017
A steep drop in the local incidence of new HIV infections accompanied the rollout of a U.S.-funded anti-HIV program in a large East-African population, according to a study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School ...

Combination HIV prevention reduces new infections by 42 percent in Ugandan district

November 29, 2017
A study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine provides real-world evidence that implementing a combination of proven HIV prevention measures across communities can substantially reduce new HIV infections ...

Research on HIV viral load urges updates to WHO therapy guidelines

November 24, 2017
A large cohort study in South Africa has revealed that that low-level viraemia (LLV) in HIV-positive patients who are receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART) is an important risk factor for treatment failure.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.