• Kenyans desperate and, thus, more gullible than usual, have fallen for fake Aids cures
The man some of my American friends refer to as the 'So-called Ruler of the United States' or Scrotus last week went on national TV to promote the idea that disinfectant could be used as a treatment for the coronavirus.
He said, “Disinfectant: knocks it out in a minute. One minute!” The world was variously shocked, amused, saddened and outraged.
A few days later, I read an article in the British newspaper the Guardian, in which it was revealed that the advice to 'Scrotus' had most probably come from some fellow called Mark Grenon.
Apparently, Grenon heads a prominent group in the US, peddling potentially lethal industrial-strength bleach as a miracle cure; and he had been in touch with the White House with his spiel, which clearly the President fell for.
Reading the story, I couldn’t help thinking of a similar situation in Kenya back in the 1990s. In those days, there emerged on the national scene a certain Arthur Obel. Obel was an eccentric gun-toting professor of medicine, who managed to inveigle himself into President Daniel arap Moi’s circle of advisers, eventually becoming one himself.
The story of Obel and his infamous Pearl Omega syrup that purported to cure Aids broke in March 1996. But according to the man himself, he had been doing secret research on the concoction with the blessing and financial support of the President’s office (read: taxpayers' money) since 1992.
With backing from the President’s office and, at least initially, the Ministry of Health, which would later turn on him, Obel swore blind that he had cured seven patients since 1991. He said his concoction was from a recipe handed down by his traditional healer grandfather.
Desperate and, therefore, more gullible than usual, Kenyans had been making a beeline for Obel’s useless syrup quietly for some years and had made an already comfortably off man, very rich.
Some fearless medical professionals condemned Pearl Omega as a hoax in the mid-90s. It wasn’t until then that the Ministry of Health and the Office of the President remembered that under Kenyan law, any new drug must be analysed and approved by the ministry before it can be put on the market.
As no licence had been issued for the sale and distribution of Pearl Omega, the concoction was therefore illegally being sold at the professor's International Medical Foundation and at the government-sponsored Biodiversity Centre in Nairobi.
There was great embarrassment all around and, if I recall, there was even a lawsuit. But eventually, the matter was forgotten and Kenyans, as is their wont, moved on to the next thing.
In the late 1990s, there would emerge another miracle Aids cure in Kenya. This one was sold by a British jailbird and quack, Basil Earle Wainwright. He went by the alias Dr Stone and was wanted by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies but had managed to con his way into Kenya.
Stone, who was basically selling bottled air which he called “Ozone therapy”, claimed to have cured over 500 Aids victims. He was eventually charged in court but I can’t recall if he was ever jailed.