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Committed to the fight against HIV/AIDS
line Thursday, 17 April 2014  
Debates- Thursday, 22nd February, 2007 PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 28 February 2007
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Debates- Thursday, 22nd February, 2007
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Thursday, 22nd February, 2007

The House met at 1430 hours

[MR SPEAKER in the Chair]






The Minister of Health (Ms Cifire): Mr Speaker, today, I will inform this august House, on the clinical trials that were conducted on three herbal remedies that were said to cure HIV/AIDS. These claims were made by our own traditional healers.

Sir, HIV/AIDS continues to be a major public health concern in our country. Though the prevalence rate is gradually falling, it still remains unacceptably high at 16 per cent in those aged 15 to 49 years. The prevalence rate is even higher in some sentinel population such as pregnant women.

Mr Speaker, it is worth mentioning that our fight against HIV/AIDS, pioneered and coordinated by the National AIDS Council (NAC), is bearing fruit. Voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) and care services are now universal in our country. From only two sites offering Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) services in 2003, we, today, have these services in all our seventy-two districts. At present, we have over 75,000 citizens receiving free Anti-Retroviral drugs.
Sir, to further improve access to health care, services which support Anti-Retroviral Therapy are also free of charge in fifty-four of our rural districts following the abolition of user fees. As a result of all these measures put in place by the Government, fewer people are now dying in our country from HIV/AIDS and the occurrence rate of orphans has subsequently reduced.

Hon. Members: Hear, hear!

Ms Cifire: Mr Speaker, the other gains made include the reduced number of admissions as a result of AIDS related complexes (ARCs) which development translates into savings from hospitals as well as from the now reduced occurrence of opportunistic infections.

Sir, the prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV is a remarkable opportunity for our country to have a generation of children born free of HIV. I am happy to report that this strategy has reached universal coverage in Zambia. It is in place in all of our seventy-two districts.

Mr Speaker, I must repeat that the Government, however well meaning, cannot put its people on Anti-Retroviral Therapy if they do not undergo testing. My ministry will continue to appeal to all Zambians to access VCT services so that all those that need Anti-Retroviral Therapy care can have it. Remember that Voluntary Counselling and Testing is, indeed, an entry point to survival.

Sir, following claims by some traditional health practitioners that they could cure HIV/AIDS, the Government, through the Ministry of Health, embarked on research to verify these claims. We now have Anti-Retroviral Drugs which are saving lives, but we do recognise the need for further research, in general, including in our own herbs in particular, for us to find a cure for HIV/AIDS. This study was a response to this need.

Mr Speaker, willing HIV positive people were selected for this study. The three herbs were administered to them over a period of time. The parameters used to assess the effectiveness or harmfulness were:

(i) the viral load, which refers to the amount of viral particles in a given volume of blood;

(ii) the CD4 count, which refers to the amount of defence cells damaged by the virus in a given volume of blood; and

(iii) observing any side effects.

Sir, the National AIDS Council was given the task of coordinating the research. A total of seventy-nine herbs were presented for research. However, only four qualified to be researched on. The four herbs were:

(i) Mayeyanin;

(ii) The Sondashi Formula;

(iii) Mailacin; and

(iv) Ngoma.

However, Ngoma could not be analysed as the owner died before the commencement of the research.


Ms Cifire: A total of twenty-six HIV positive participants were enrolled in the study:

Mayeyanin  11

Sondashi Formula 10

Mailacin.  5

Mr Speaker, the research covered the period November 2005 to April 2006. This was a period of six months. This was above the period of three months within which the herbalists claimed they could cure a client of HIV/AIDS using their formulas. The objects of the research were:

(i) to determine herbal safety. This was aimed at determining whether the herbs were safe for human use; and

(ii) to determine efficacy. This was aimed at ascertaining whether the herbs could eliminate the virus from the human body so as to amount to a cure.

Sir, the report on safety states that the herbal drugs given to the participants could be said to be safe for the following reasons:

(i) none of the twenty-six participants died; and

(ii) no side effects were observed.

Mr Speaker, the report on efficacy states categorically that all the three products did not cure the HIV infection.

The total amount spent on the study was about K1.4 billion and this was for:

(i) fees for the investigators;

(ii) laboratory costs;

(iii) participants upkeep and allowances; and

(iv) administrative costs.

Mr Speaker, based on the preliminary findings, the following conclusions were made:

(i) the herbal medicines that were under study do not cure the HIV infection; and

(ii) there is need to undertake more research, for example, a longer study preferably with a larger sample size would be ideal.

Sir, the Ministry of Health would like to thank all the participants and investigators for making sure that this research was undertaken and for their commitment during the study period.

I thank you, Sir.

Hon. Government Members: Hear, hear!

Mr Speaker: Order!

Hon. Members may now ask questions on points of clarification on the ministerial statement which has been made by the hon. Minister of Health.

Mr Mukanga (Kantanshi): Mr Speaker, the hon. Minister stated that the number of people dying from HIV/AIDS has reduced. She also said that 75,000 people are on ART treatment yet Zambia has about 920,000 people who are HIV positive. I would like to find out how those figures correlate because I see a situation where only 75,000 people are being attended to or getting treatment while the rest are still infected and dying.

Ms Cifire: Mr Speaker, the statement I read said we have over 75,000 people on ART meaning the number is increasing. We can change this figure on a monthly basis because stigma is slowly reducing. Access to ART starts with going for testing. That is why we are appealing to everyone to know their status so that they can access ART services. If people go for testing and know their status, they can be put on ARVs which are able to prolong life. When we talk about less people dying now, it is because they are able to get medication. Therefore, people should test to be able to get the ARVs.

I thank you, Sir.

Mr Bonshe (Mufumbwe): Mr Speaker, it was found that the herbal medicines which were tested do not cure HIV/AIDS. Similarly, the medical treatment of ARVs does not cure HIV/AIDS, but can reduce its side effects. Can the hon. Minister confirm whether these herbal medicines are also able to prolong life and reduce the symptoms of HIV/AIDS.

Ms Cifire: Mr Speaker, I said in my ministerial statement that no harmful effects of the herbal remedies have come through in the research because none of the participants died. We are still at the level where ARVs as well as herbal medicines are able to treat some side effects, but cannot cure HIV/AIDS.

I thank you, Sir.

Mr Habeenzu (Chikankata): Mr Speaker, I would like to find out from the hon. Minister which part of the country still has a high prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS.

Ms Cifire: Mr Speaker, this is an issue we dealt with yesterday. We talked about the line of rail having the highest numbers with Lusaka having the highest number.
I thank you, Sir.

Mr Misapa (Mporokoso): Mr Speaker, the hon. Minister has explained that the herbal remedies have proved to be more or less equivalent to ARVs. Have we taken any steps to make sure that we put this herbal drug on the market so that we treat it as a Zambian issue?

Ms Cifire: Mr Speaker, at the moment, what we have are the ARVs that have been certified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and all the other bodies. We have been researching on the herbal medicines from our traditional doctors, but we have not subjected them to the international tests required for us to be able to put them on the market.

I thank you, Sir.

Mr Milupi (Luena): Mr Speaker, following the hon. Minister’s confirmation that stigma is slowly reducing with regard to HIV/AIDS, when is her ministry going to allow medical personnel to conduct universal testing so that all the people who go to hospital, if they show signs of HIV/AIDS, can be tested? This can enable more people access ARVs and save lives.

Ms Cifire: Mr Speaker, this is already being done. It is an acceptable practice by the WHO that there are some symptoms for which we do not have to wait for the actual testing to have people put on anti-retroviral drugs.

Thank you, Sir.

Mr Kapeya (Mpika Central): Mr Speaker, could the hon. Minister confirm that the idea which was mooted by the MMD Government for the traditional healers to work side by side with medical doctors has been abandoned. Could she also tell us the reasons for this.

Ms Cifire: Mr Speaker, the fact that the Government is able to allow these tests to go on means that we are ready to work with the traditional healers. There are norms that need to go side by side for conventional and traditional medicines to work together and that is what we are following now. Until such a time that we can streamline that, we will do that. However, we have them as partners right now, hence, our facilitating the tests that are going on.

I thank you, Sir.

Mr Katuka (Mwinilunga East): Mr Speaker, I would like to find out from the hon. Minister what happened to the twenty-six people who were used in the research after the six month period. Has the Government continued to assess their condition? What is happening now?

Ms Cifire: Mr Speaker, according to the traditional healers, these people would get cured in three months. When we did our research, we subjected them to confinement for six months. This was an extra three months of the usual practice. After that, we let them get back into society. We cannot confine people forever. So, they are back home.

I thank you Sir.

Mr I. Banda (Lumezi): Mr Speaker, I would like to find out from the hon. Minister of Health whether the CD4 count showed that the herbs reduced the virus.

Ms Cifire: Mr Speaker, the reason we are saying that this is not a cure for HIV/AIDS is that the viral load did not go down. If we were talking about the viral load disappearing, then we would be talking about a cure for HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Hence, we are saying that this is not yet a cure for HIV/AIDS.

I thank you, Sir.

Mr Mwiimbu (Monze): Mr Speaker, of late, there are international vultures in every sphere of life. I would like to find out the measures that the hon. Minister of Health and the Government have put in place to protect the property rights of the herbalists whose medicines are proving to be potential future cures of HIV/AIDS.

Ms Cifire: Mr Speaker, first, we have taken it as a test being done by the Government. Of course, we would like to get the credit for the cure if it is going to come through. Therefore, this is something that we are safeguarding.

Secondly, we hope the traditional healers involved will also be patriotic so that, as a country, if we are to find something for which we need to have our own credit as well as international credit, they will not go the other way to achieve it. For now, we are safeguarding it and also hope that we do not go the other way in view of the vultures that the hon. Member is worried about.

I thank you, Sir.

Mr Munaile (Malole): Mr Speaker, when is the ministry going to allow doctors to put the cause of death on the certificate in cases where the cause of death is related to HIV/AIDS? Instead of putting malaria or pneumonia, why can they not just state that a person died of HIV/AIDS?

Ms Cifire: Mr Speaker, an HIV infected person dies from an opportunist infection. At the time of death, they would have died, maybe, of malaria or tuberculosis. If that is the cause of death, we cannot say that someone died of HIV/AIDS when the disease was malaria or tuberculosis.

I thank you, Sir.

Mr Nkombo (Mazabuka): Mr Speaker, the hon. Minister has indicated to this House that what they term traditional medicines perform the same functions as ARVs and that both do not cure HIV/AIDS. I would like to find out from her, having spent in excess of K1 billion in research, what they are doing to promote the four producers of these drugs so that more people can benefit not only from the ARVs from abroad, but also from what I would call ARVs from traditional medicines from Zambia.

Ms Cifire: Mr Speaker, the amount indicated just shows us how expensive research is. It does not come easily. This was a preliminary report and more work needs to be done and there is room for improvement on what has been done. We will give the necessary support to enable us have a product that, maybe, would help us get rid of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

I thank you, Sir.

Mr Mushili (Ndola Central): Mr Speaker, VCT is a good exercise that must be encouraged. Is the hon. Minister of Health able to tell us the consequential effects of the same? Has she got any statistics that indicate the number of people who have died because of the pronouncement that they are HIV positive?

Ms Cifire: Mr Speaker, I would like to know exactly what the hon. Member means. When we talk about VCT, we are talking about preparing a person for the outcome of the test. You prepare the person to accept negative or positive results. So far, from all the tests that have been carried out, we have not heard of any person that has died of shock because of being pronounced HIV positive. When one decides to go for the test, at that moment, they are in shockproof position. So, simply put, I would say that we have not had anybody dying from shock.

I thank you, Sir.

Mr Sinyinda (Senanga): Mr Speaker, mine is a follow up to Hon. Katuka’s question. I would like to find out from the hon. Minister of Health whether the twenty-six patients have continued taking herbal medicines or have gone to ARV drugs.
Ms Cifire: Mr Speaker, as I said, these were volunteers who chose to be secluded for six months. Now that they have gone back to their respective homes, they have a choice on what avenue to take regarding the medicines they are going to take. Since they are at home and not in confinement, it is not easy to tell whether they have continued on the formulas or are on ARVs.

I thank you, Sir.

Mrs Musokotwane (Katombola): Mr Speaker, our traditional healers are trying their best to find a cure for HIV/AIDS. Are our modern doctors also trying to find a cure for HIV/AIDS?

Ms Cifire: Mr Speaker, I do not know whether the modern doctors the hon. Member is referring to are those in Zambia or internationally. Right now, the researchers in the medical field are working day and night to find a cure for HIV/AIDS. The new scenario we have concerns traditional healers who have also started doing research. These others have been researching since HIV/AIDS was pronounced a disaster.

I thank you, Sir.

Mr Matongo (Pemba): Mr Speaker, the hon. Minister has stated that they need to safeguard certain things which are obviously not being said now. I would like a straight answer from her. Does this research on the four herbal medicines have some good or bad? Is there hope there? What are you safeguarding?

Ms Cifire: Mr Speaker, I stated that, so far, the medicines have not proved harmful. They have not been toxic and did not kill any of the twenty-six people who participated in the study. Healing has not been talked about here. The bottom line is that all the tests have been done on the herbal medicines and they have not proved to be the cure for HIV/AIDS as at now.
I thank you, Sir.
Dr Katema (Chingola): Mr Speaker, I heard the hon. Minister say that the thrust that the Government has seen in relation to the fight against HIV/AIDS is the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT). I would like to find out what the Government is doing to reach the children who are born outside hospitals. This is because it is easy to give medicine to the mother who is pregnant, but not the children who are born thereafter. Does the Government have intentions to incorporate PMTCT in the mobile mother to child health care service?

Ms Cifire: Mr Speaker, our statistics show that antenatal attendance is almost 95 per cent throughout the country. It is only at the time of delivery that those statistics may be reduced to, maybe, 46 per cent. So, the fact that 95 per cent of our mothers attend antenatal clinics means that they have access to PMTCT. Through this, we are assured that ART services are accessible to them as they attend antenatal clinics. Therefore, we have hope for an HIV/AIDS free generation.

I thank you, Sir.


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