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Kenya Church Leaders Demand Testing of HIV/AIDS Herbal Medicines

Concerns echo debate over "miracle herbal cure" in neighboring Tanzania that drew millions.

NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) – A "miracle herbal cure" recently attracted more than 4 million pilgrims to the home of retired Tanzanian pastor Ambilikile Mwasapile.

Now church leaders in neighboring Kenya are pressing their government to scientifically test herbal medicines that are used by millions to manage and treat diseases, saying the nontraditional therapies could be putting patients' health at risk.

The leaders say HIV/AIDS patients and others suffering chronic conditions are widely using the medicines, whose efficacy is unknown.

"We are urging the government to test the medicines in modern laboratories so that citizens can be advised scientifically about what they are taking. That's a challenge we are also throwing to universities," former Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi told reporters last week.

The natural medicines are so popular that some churches are advising their congregations and people with AIDS to use them to boost their immunity, alongside standard anti-retroviral medicines, said Nzimbi.

Sometimes, that advice is being interpreted to mean that sick people should abandon their medicine in favor of the herbs, according to Nyabuto Marube, an evangelical church leader.

"That's the risk," he said. "They should not been seen as replacements for modern medicines, but as supplements for now."

Gideon Byamugisha, the Ugandan Anglican priest who in 1992 became the first African religious leader to declare he was HIV-positive, told a medical conference last week how he had used herbs to fight opportunistic infections.

"When I became sick in 1998, a time when there were no ARVs, I used garlic to fend off infections," said Byamugisha. "There are many herbs in use, but we also need to know how they combine with modern medicines."


Editor's note: CT reported on the debate surrounding Mwasapile's "miracle cure" in 2011.

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