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Monday, 8 May, 2000, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
Nigerian doctor finds HIV 'cure'
Aids sufferer
Nigeria is on the verge of an Aids epidemic
By Barnaby Phillips in Abuja

Nigeria is in the grip of controversy over the unproven claims of a doctor who says he has found a cure for the HIV virus.

Aids Special Report
It is not the kind of place you would expect to stumble across one of history's great scientific breakthroughs - but the Nigerian public are queuing up in droves outside Dr Jeremiah Abalaka's private clinic in a dusty township outside Abuja.

He denies they are desperate people who have fallen for a con-trick. Rather, they are the lucky ones - amongst the first people in the world to discover that HIV can be cured.

I will publicly take HIV-infected blood... and I'll inject myself publicly

Dr Abalaka
"They are coming because the drug is working, the drug is working," says Dr Abalaka.

"The person who comes to me who is losing weight, who has recurrent fever, by the time he takes a shot or two, he discovers he's feeling better, he's putting on weight, he's sleeping, his fever has disappeared."

Patient trust

Dr Abalaka says he does not only have a cure for HIV - he even has a vaccine to prevent you contracting the virus.

I've even sold my house, to come here and pay for the course, and to save my life.

A patient of Dr Abalaka
He says he has already cured 29 people - not enough to write a scientific paper on his findings, but with 800 patients now signed up, that will soon come.

In the meantime, he is becoming a rich man - his medication costs hundreds of dollars. His patients will do anything to get the money - and they have faith in him

"I believe, and I'm getting better," one told me. "I feel much better. I trust the doctor, he's doing the job."

But the treatment comes at a price.

"I've sold all my properties, everything I have, I've even sold my house, to come here and pay for the course, and to save my life."

Soldiers 'cured'

Dr Abalaka is the man of the moment in Nigeria. Newspaper editorials extol his virtues almost every day.

HIV in Nigeria
2.6m people infected
Set to rise to 4.9m by 2003
Infection rate exceeds 20% in some areas
A senior general recently announced that 30 soldiers who had the HIV virus have been cured by him. Soldiers guard his clinic, and he says he is now supplying the military with more vaccines.

Government officials are wary of criticising Doctor Abalaka in public.

More than a year after this controversy started, a definitive statement on his alleged findings has not been made.

Paul Okwulehie is an official of the government's aids control programme.

"In order not to rush into rash, erroneous conclusions, government has to act slowly but steadily and surely and logically, in order for government to make a definitive pronouncement," he said.

Wonder vaccine

Dr Abalaka says it would be unreasonable and unpatriotic for him to reveal the scientific details of his cure right now - but he will do so when he has the Nigerian president's support.

In the mean-time, he has laid down a dramatic challenge to his detractors.

"I will publicly take HIV-infected blood - fresh blood - and I'll inject myself publicly.

"If I fail to develop HIV, having done that, that is scientific proof that something is preventing me from catching it - the vaccine."

In fact, Dr Abalaka says he has already injected himself with HIV-infected blood six times, but his vaccine has always protected him.

Some other Nigerian doctors have started using his cure, and have reported encouraging results. A major international drugs company has become curious about his activities.

In private, Nigerian Government officials are appalled by the confused and hesitant response to the Abalaka phenomenon.

With more than 5% of Nigeria's huge population believed to be HIV positive, the country is on the verge of a terrible epidemic - answers are urgently needed.

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See also:

01 Dec 99 | Africa
HIV warning for Nigeria
04 Oct 99 | Africa
Africa on the Aids frontline
04 May 00 | Health
Aids virus could fight disease
06 May 00 | Africa
South Africa tackles Aids
23 Nov 99 | Health
HIV hits 50 million
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