Western and traditional healing meet over HIV

AIDS awareness mural in South Africa Copyright: IRD / E. Deliry Antheaume

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Many of South Africa’s 5.5 million HIV-positive people rely on traditional healers, called sangomas. While scientists tend to view the healers with scepticism, the sangomas often fear that Western medicine will harm their patients.

In this article in Nature, Natasha Bolognesi reports on how one woman is trying to bridge the gap.

British born social anthropologist Jo Wreford is one of the few white people in South Africa to have qualified as a sangoma. Her Western background and academic training combined with her spiritual leanings give Wreford an insight into both the physical and psychological impacts of HIV/AIDS.

Wreford wants doctors and traditional healers to work side by side to address patients’ needs and to lead the fight against HIV/AIDS, but mutual distrust stands in the way.

To overcome this, Wreford and a non-profit organisation called HOPE (HIV Outreach Programme and Education) have set up a project in five townships near Cape Town. They aim to bring doctors and sangomas together to learn about each other’s practices, and to collaborate on HIV/AIDS intervention.

After some initial hurdles, the five-month-old project is making progress, and participants are more confident about each other’s roles in combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Stefan Hippler, HOPE’s chair, is optimistic that the project could inform policy in other African countries as well.

Link to full article in Nature