Authorities say an American pastor has been distributing a poisonous drink billed as a "miracle cure" to tens of thousands of people in Uganda including children and infants. Robert Baldwin, who operates a Christian nonprofit based in New Jersey, stands accused of exploiting poor communities in the African country and convincing them to take the supposed cure-all substance known as "miracle mineral solution" (MMS). He has denied the allegations but shut down his website and all of his social media accounts soon after the story came to light.
Miraculous Claims, Spectacular Lies
The FDA and other government agencies have been warning people not to take MMS for years now. They say the substance contains chlorine dioxide, an industrial bleach that is toxic to humans. Potential side effects include severe nausea, vomiting, and extreme dehydration which can be life threatening in some cases.
But that hasn't stopped fringe religious groups from promoting MMS as a "miracle cure" to heal all ailments from diabetes and malaria to HIV/AIDS and cancer. Just last month, the FDA issued an urgent warning against drinking the substance after a fundamentalist church announced it would feature MMS at an event in Washington State.
Preying on the Vulnerable
According to one prominent critic, Baldwin and others like him show up in developing countries with "the Bible in one hand and bleach in the other."
In this case, Baldwin traveled to Uganda a majority Christian nation and began selling people on the effectiveness of MMS. In a country sorely lacking in access to proper medicine, the idea of a "miracle cure" was no doubt intriguing. According to the Guardian, he went on to train 1,200 Ugandan clerics on how to administer the substance which they did, to as many as 50,000 people, including many infants.
Even worse, Baldwin openly admits that the reason he took the miracle solution to Uganda is because there are fewer legal concerns about it abroad. "America and Europe have much stricter laws so you are not as free to treat people because it is so controlled by the FDA. That's why I work in developing countries," Baldwin said. But he is clearly not oblivious to the potential ramifications of distributing the drug. "You have to do it low key. That's why I set it up through the church," he noted.
Crackdown Finally Comes
Although Baldwin was able to operate under the radar for some time, eventually people got wind of what he was doing. Many of Ugandans were furious to learn about the operation. "This is not missionary work," said Jonathan Bonk, director of the Dictionary of African Christian Biography. "These are really, really poor people who are sick, and they believe they're going to get better," Bonk said. "Where people are desperate for medical care, they place their faith in miracles."
Earlier this week, the U.S. Embassy posted a statement on Twitter about the situation:
It seems Baldwin is no longer actively distributing MMS in the country, but it's not clear if he'll face any legal consequences for his actions.