A promise for a cure that would release Jesse Ng’ang’a from the daily intake of antiretroviral drugs saw him visit one of the many cure-it-all herbalists in Gilgil town.
According to him, he was given a concoction that left him drunk for several day after which he went back to his antiretrovirals.
This is the story of how rogue herbalists are fleecing villagers in Gilgil Division in Nakuru District who blatantly claim to be able to cure Aids.(Gilgilis a town in the Rift Valley province of Kenya. It is located between Naivasha and Nakuru towns along the Nairobi - Nakuru highway.)
Pasted on anything that can capture the public eye are posters that tell of catalogues of diseases that they can treat.
Ng’ang’a had planned to keep his status a secret from his wife and the society, so it was easy for him to fall to the tricksters. “I made a secret journey to this herbalist in Gilgil town who claims to have treated 98 cases of Aids,” recalls Ng’ang’a.
According to the youthful father of two, the herbalist first interrogated him to learn all he could about the historical details of his disease, including a query on whether he was tested in a public or private health facility.
“After informing him that I was tested in a public facility, he told me how his fame had spread far and wide due to his healing powers,” says Ng’ang’a. “What followed was an hour long session of prayers.”
Having invoked the powers of the supernatural, says Ng’ang’a, the herbalist explained that it would cost him Sh4,000 as consultation fee, while the actual treatment which would last 60 days would require Sh 10,000. They would then sign an MOU binding Ng’ang’a, to pay Sh 100,000 once he was cured in about two months time.
“He however informed me that if I could not afford the money as per agreement I would have to forfeit my land title deed to him as I look for the money,” says Ng’ang’a.
Like many others who have fallen to the tricksters, Ng’ang’a’s secret trip was the first – and last. After coming to his senses, he revealed his status to his wife who then encouraged him to seek ARV therapy through Kikopey - Diatomite Community Based Organisation (CBO).
Sitting on the fringes of the Great Rift Valley, Gilgil is a variation of arid flatland and sun baked hills with seasonal river valleys that appear deceptively rich with a selection of wildlife.
Rocks of every shade and size soar out of the semi desert, worn and fissured in the furnace of the sun. To a resident however, the land has brought despair only.
Hardly, they say, do the skies open up to bless them with rain, a glaring anomaly given that most of the land that the Great Rift Valley cuts through is a blanket of agricultural rich land.
But the extent of recurrent hunger here is no anomaly. It opens a confluence of social factors including marginalization, poverty and alienation to form a social bridge in which diseases pass on from one village to another.
“It is very difficult for us because our children have migrated to urban centres such as Gilgil town to look for jobs, says Mary Wanjiru, a grandmother who is taking care of two grandchildren left behind by the daughter. “Unfortunately easy money which flows in the town has lured them to prostitution and immorality.”
It is easy to understand Wanjiru’s frustration. This is the only town in the land that unites a wide array of security personnel with the public. It is a 24 hour economy for the entertainment business. Even in the wee hours of the morning revellers will still be found in pubs. And so the Aids epidemic spreads.
But as the epidemic ate into the Gilgil society, so did the appetite herbalists. According to Euphenia Njeri, the founder of Kikopey – Diatomite CBO, both the rate of HIV infection and stigma are high here.
“At first no one wanted neighbours and fellow villagers to know about one’s HIV status and so they would seek help from herbalists,” says Njeri, one of the few residents who has gone public about her status.
“Before long the herbalists realised this was an untapped potential with promises of rich returns and so they thrived.”
The Kenya legal system favoured them too, for even to date herbal medicine practice is not guided by any law or code of ethics.