May 31 (UPI) -- Three people sued exiled former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh on Thursday, accusing him of pushing a fraudulent herbal treatment for HIV and AIDS, and forcing them to give up anti-retroviral drugs.
Jammeh's AIDS program mandated in 2007 that people with HIV and AIDS live in a government facility under surveillance from guards. The patients were forced to stop taking prescription drugs given to them by doctors and instead "drink herbal concoctions that often made them violently ill," AIDS-Free World, an international advocacy organization representing the plaintiffs, said.
Fatou Jatta, Ousman Sowe and Lamin "Moko" Ceesay said the nature of Jammeh's "cure" was kept secret.
"My experience in the presidential treatment program was a horror," Jatta said. "I could have lost my life."
The organization said Jammeh also slathered concoctions on the patients' partially nude bodies while chanting prayers -- sometimes broadcast on television without their consent. Some patients had not yet told family or friends of their HIV status.
"The precise number of deaths as a consequence of Jammeh's criminal mistreatment remains difficult to determine," AIDS-Free World said.
In 2016, the director of the treatment program, Dr. Tamsir Mbowe, said more than 9,000 patients were cured with the treatment. Two years later he said he'd treated 311 people.
"This case will advance human rights protection in the Gambia, particularly with respect to people living with HIV, who are highly stigmatized and marginalized," said Oludayo Fagbemi, legal officer with the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa. "We are happy to be supporting the claimants in this case."
Jammeh was elected president of Gambia in 1994 and served until 2017, when he lost an election to new President Adama Barrow. Jammeh initially refused to step down and left the country in exile to Equatorial Guinea.