AIDS cure in Zambia?
POSTmag - Saturday, 18 May, 2002  Page 5

USAKA: A Zambia-based Chinese doctor, who claims to have a cure for AIDS, is making a fortune here as ailing Zambians flock to his little hospital to seek the remedy.

Cure for HIV/AIDS. Tian Immunity Booster, the latest and retroviral drug," reads a banner on the entrance of the hospital, situated in the upmarket suburb of Kabulonga in the capital, Lusaka.

People infected with HIV have been flocking to this hospital to seek treatment from doctor Shengxun Tian, a Chinese medicine man who specialises in herbs and who claims to have cured the deadly virus.

"On a daily basis, I receive an average of 15 patients who come for AIDS treatment," said Tian, who is popularly known as Professor in Zambia.

He claims to have discovered an AIDS cure named "Tian Immunity Booster," which is an extraction of plant and animal substances.

"Seven years ago when I discovered this drug, it was purely for improving the immune system of patients. But after further research and development, the drug has proved to be the only effective treatment to HIV," Tian said.

Outside his consultation room, sick Zambians queue to seek the treatment of Tian, who is always immaculately dressed in carefully matched neckties and a snow white coat.

"I charge 200 US dollars per month and the course usually takes about six months, said Tian, though acknowledging that most of his poor patients fail to pay for the drugs.

One in every five Zambian is believed to be HIV positive in this impoverished southern African country, where the majority of people live on less than a dollar per day.

Tian Hospital was established in 1990 when the Chinese doctor first came to Zambia to practice conventional medicine. He later opted to concentrate on herbs.

Inside his consultation room, Tian has piles of files of clients who have sought his treatment - some died, while others are still taking his medicine, which he packages in tablet or capsules form.

He says some of those files carry the names of prominent Zambians who are among the top clients of Tian Hospital.

But Tian's claim of having an AIDS cure has caused an uproar among the Zambian medical community, some of whom are calling for the closure of his hospital.

"Some patients whom Tian claim to have cured were not taking his medicine only. Most of them also take the international tested anti-retroviral drugs," said doctor Francis Kasolo, head of the virology department at Zambia's biggest hospital. The Zambian government had instructed doctors to conduct a study on selected patients to find out whether the Tian drugs were indeed the cure for HIV/AIDS.

"Ten people were selected from Tian's patients, but before the study was finished, all of them disappeared," Kasolo said, who is also in charge of HIV testing laboratory in Zambia.

But Tian produces a lot of documents showing that most of his patients under his treatment had their HIV viral loads reduced to very low levels within the first weeks of taking his drugs.

"For us, we shall not recognise all that, until we are allowed to conduct an independent controlled double-blind study on the patients," Kasolo said.

Another Zambian doctor who called for the immediate closure of the Tian hospital said some prominent politicians who are clients of the Chinese hospital were to blame for the fortune Tian is making in the country.

"We have been receiving instructions from top government officials telling us to recognise the Tiara drugs," said a senior doctor, who asked not to be named.

What seem to confuse a lot of Zambians over the Tian controversy is that despite him administering herbal medicine, the medical council of Zambia - a professional body that grants practising licences - does recognise him.

"That was the first mistake which was made. Now he can claim to be a genuine doctor because he has a practising licence like everyone else," Kasolo said.

The local media have run reports on people who claim to have been cured by the Tian drugs, though there is no independent medical confirmation so far.

Whatever the differences the medical community have over the Tian drugs, many Zambians, especially those with full blown AIDS, still flock to the Tian hospital to seek a last option cure of the deadly disease. -AFP