In April, 43-year-old Jackson Mwasapila of northern Tanzania died from what doctors suspected to be malaria. While malaria is one of the leading killers in Africa, Jackson was no ordinary patient.
He was the son of Ambilikile Mwasapila, a 76-year-old retired Lutheran pastor who has made global headlines for dispensing an herbal "miracle cure" he claims can heal any ailment: cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other terminal diseases. Mwasapila has drawn hundreds of thousands in a culture where superstition remains widespread and the health system is dilapidated. Of every 1,000 children, 118 die before the age of 5.
Traffic jams stretching miles from Mwasapila's previously unknown village of Samunge, near Serengeti National Park, have become the norm. It's particularly remarkable considering that the nearest major city, Arusha, is 250 miles away. Officials report significant increases in tourism revenues as wealthy patrons charter helicopters from Nairobi in neighboring Kenya and hundreds continue to pour in by foot and car. Local media report that more than 80 people have died waiting in line. All for a small cup of an herbal cure offered at the wallet-friendly price of 50 Tanzanian shillings (3 cents).
The Tanzanian government reported in May that the concoction, which Mwasapila claims God revealed to him and is derived from mugariga tree bark, is "not toxic and safe for use." But Alloys Orago, director of the National AIDS Control Council in Kenya, maintained that "the effectiveness and safety of the herb has not been ascertained." He joined with the U.S embassy in Dar Es Salaam and the Tanzanian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to discourage AIDS patients from abandoning antiretroviral treatment given at hospitals in pursuit of herbal ...