Where camel products are used to treat HIV virus
For the past two months, she has been isolated under an acacia tree where she has been braving the ravages of HIV virus.
Her herding family moved her from Wajir town, several kilometers away, deep into the tangled bush to seek traditional treatment to apparently conquer the virus.
Her daily dose of medicine meant to counter the virus is fresh urine and the milk of camel, an animal whose product is believed widely by Somali herders to cure and treat HIV.
Trying in vain to talk, she breathes out: “I am undergoing this treatment. every dawn and dusk I take a hot cup of camel urine and every moment I drink its milk” I will be cured if I take this treatment for six months” she repeatedly says
Every other day, she is cooped up under the old tree keeping her fingers crossed, but with perceptible hesitation about her deteriorating health.
On her left side, a wooden container full of milk dangles from one of the tree branches, and on her right a big bowl of meat is just an arm-length away.
She ardently follows the traditional prescription, often dictated by her caring and loving father who is in a desperate search to cure his first-born daughter- the apple of his eye.
Ms. Shamsa’s pastoral community is devastated by ignorance, a powerful testimony to their ill-fated traditional medical intervention.
And her father Mr. Jimale Jajumow 66, is one of the many illiterate herders who agrees that camel urine and milk treats the HIV virus.
For a community where camel- referred to as the ship of the desert- is ingrained in the pristine culture, its usage is pervasive and it is often used to treat diverse illnesses.
“We believe that its products are one of the best medicines in the world” says ageing Jajumow “So it can even treat what world doctors had failed to treat”
Like listless Shamsa, many patients downed by the virus in remote Northern Kenya, suffer at their mundane bushy-homes, where this animal’s product is widely understood to giving a second chance to life.
The nomadic community in this part of Kenya is one of the world’s enthusiastic consumers of camel products, and that belief about its treatment power has spawned a host of theories as to why many patients abandon the life-longing Antiretroviral Drugs (ARV’s).
“This is very weird” notes Mr. Yussuf Mohamed, Wajir East District Aids Coordinator. “We are having just about 80 patients on ARV’s throughout Wajir district”
“We are concerned of this ill-presumed belief about camel products, specifically its urine”
With a population of about half a million people, vast Wajir had just handful of patients taking advantage of the free drugs available at the local VCT.
Over the past few years, the intervention of the ARVs’ had only helped some negligible number of HIV patients especially from the much urbanised township.
Pastoralist people living with the virus devised their own way out of the woods, by taking vitamins and other animal dietary supplements in the hopes that this might fend off full-blown AIDs.
As the sun rises above the horizon of the cloudy skies, Wargadud -another remote village some 100KM East of Wajir town – is beginning its walking hours of looking after its animals.
Its dusty streets are jam-packed with a wealth of livestock and the sounds of animals that echo around the hamlet are an indication to the remaining traditional African setup.
A number of herders water their animals in a nearby pan. It is around this water point where the business of herding is more cheering.
But the heavy semblance of a common and normal life here in Wargadud, hides an ugly reality; families here lack the adequate knowledge to respond and to keep the HIV virus at bay.
“I had never heard of a medicine that can keep the life of HIV patients longer” says 50 years old Mr. Jimale Othaway. “And if it is there, we don’t totally believe, it is a waste of time to use it”
Although pastoral villages across the barren region has been relatively unscathed by the spread of the virus, the growing prevalence rate is a palpable reminder of the ever-present threat.
The practice of traditional treatment is widespread in remote settlements where illiteracy rates are the highest and where the overwhelming majority lack familiarity and the disposition to get ahead in positive living with the virus.
Due to inadequate information, many villagers don’t even try to engage in the HIV debates that titillate so many people of this poverty devastated area.
“Lack of knowledge may be creating most problems of HIV/AIDS epidemic now and in future among the herding communities, and because of this, rapid transmission could very well transpire” says Ms. Hareda Bulle an aid worker with Wajir South Development Agency (WASDA).
For now health records at Wajir VCT depicts a worrying trend of the spread of the disease, with an incidence rate of two percent and a prevalence rate of one percent. These rates have skyrocketed over the past three years.
The depression and boredom suffered by HIV patients who try to stay in the bush to treat by themselves is almost instantaneously transforming the local society into a state of euphoria- a state that makes their future hang in the balance.
“Many of them either die helplessly in the bush, or they come to start ARV administration when they realise that they are loosing” notes Mr. Mohamed
Melekha Isow is another patient who is out to a pastoral village to seek camel intervention, she had some doubts about giving herself search a strenuous treatment, but altogether she has nothing to regret.
“I know the HIV virus had no cure, but my parents had been giving me everyday Camel Urine and products to recover” she said in querulous voice.
The consequence of illiteracy and the very little information about HIV/AIDs in the region is seemingly a different scourge as health expert warn of a worsening spread of the disease.
The local hospital together with health partners had organised a treatment literacy program to improve the adherence of ARV’s, but in vain.
In the literacy program, the few patients who are taking the drugs are allowed to share their experience with the rest of the community.
“We tell them that they miss the magic of ARV’s” observes Ms. Meytuun Shamow-not her real name- a patient. “We tell them that their camel cannot treat them and that it is just a myth”
Extreme stigma had also marginalised those who are HIV-positive which in turn inhibits people from going for counseling and testing in the first place.
According to statistics at Wajir main hospital, only 20 per cent of the people know their HIV status.
For now there is an emerging concern over the widespread desertion of the right treatment, of course many patients will have to pay the price.
But for Shamsa 25, her health had taken off at a gallop. For the next four months to come at least she will wait for the magic of the camel.
During her troubling days in the bush, she will be surviving on the edge through the desert in a dented shelter where her mind remained bent.
Her heart is occupied too.
Finally Shamsa’s father, a longtime herder, will never relent too. He will be slaughtering more camels and Shamsa will keep taking her informal treatment.
”I am so desperate to treat her virus” said Mr. Jajumow as death is seemingly around the corner for his daughter