Five Americans, two of them doctors, two nurses and an organizer who worked with AIDS patients and orphans in Zimbabwe have been arrested for not having appropriate medical licenses, according to their attorney, Jonathan Samukange. Chairwoman of an AIDS program run by the Allen Temple Baptist Church, Oakland, California, Gloria Cox is among those arrested, the lawyer said - the organization supports AIDS orphans and people with AIDS in Zimbabwe. The church serves a mainly African-American congregation.
The five were arrested on Thursday and have remained in jail since.
Samukange adds that a Zimbabwean doctor was also arrested.
Their lawyer said that the arrested individuals have been accused of:
- Practicing medicine without proper licences
- Running a pharmacy without a pharmacist's licence
- Running a pharmacy without the supervision of a pharmacist
The defendants are expected to appear in court on Monday. They were to appear on Saturday, September 11, but according to their lawyer, the police still have some paperwork to finish off. According to local and US media, they are being kept in smelly and badly ventilated cells at Harare Central police station.
Zimbabwe's health system relies heavily on help from charitable organizations. The team had brought antiretroviral drugs for about 800 AIDS patients - according to The New York Times, they came with four-months' supply.
The Herald, a state-run newspaper in Zimbabwe, quoted a police spokesman who said:
It is our duty to ensure that all clinics and medical institutions are registered for easy monitoring.
There is a risk of dispensation of expired drugs. When premises are not licensed, it is difficult to check if the act is being complied with.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation there are almost two million people living with HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe, representing the third largest HIV/AIDS burden in sub-Saharan Africa. Zimbabwe has among the highest rates of HIV/AIDS prevalence in the world.
USAID informs that the first reported case of AIDS in Zimbabwe occurred in 1985; by the end of that decade approximately 10% of the nation's adult population was thought to be infected with HIV. By 1997 over 36% of Zimbabwe's adult population was infected with HIV. Since then, USAID says HIV prevalence has been dropping; Zimbabwe is one of the first African countries to experience a decline.
Sources: Herald (Zimbabwe), USAID, Kaiser Family Foundation, New York Times.
Written by Christian Nordqvist