DURBAN, South Africa (Reuters) - Up to 100 traditional healers
chanted and danced to the sounds of African drums Wednesday as
they marched to the 13th International AIDS Conference to
demand a role in battling the disease.
While delegates presented the latest scientific findings in
Durban's high-tech conference center and drugs companies
displayed an arsenal of weapons that can suppress but not
destroy the HIV virus, healers dressed in African robes and
animal skins said they could help where modern medicine has so
They don't claim to have a cure, but they said they could play
a part in preventing the spread of the virus and in treating
the infections that kill sufferers.
"Traditional medicine can deal with the opportunistic
sicknesses that arise from HIV/AIDS. It has a role to play
there," said Credo Mutwa, a South African sangoma, or holy
"Until the white scientists can come up with a vaccine or cure
we must fight this disease."
First Port Of Call For Most Africans
For the majority of people in sub-Saharan Africa where 24.5
million people are living with HIV/AIDS, traditional healers
are the first port of call for most people.
"We know that 90 percent of people go first to traditional
healers. It is difficult in Africa to promote any health
systems when they don't involve traditional healers," said
Erick Gbodossou, a Senegalese healer and head of Prometra, an
international organization promoting traditional medicine. In
addition to promoting safe sex, Gbodossou said the plants,
herbs, animal skins and bones healers use in their medicines
and rituals can improve the quality of life for people
suffering from HIV/AIDS.
"Modern medicine cannot find a solution alone. We need to
bring together our common knowledge to find a solution to fight
this pandemic. This is our goal," he added.
Noerine Kaleeba, of UNAIDS and the founder of an AIDS support
group in Uganda, said that like it or not traditional healers
command authority in communities.
UNAIDS, the UN agency charged with fighting the epidemic, is
already reaching out to traditional healers.
"One of the elements UNAIDS is taking up really aggressively
is working with countries to define a process through which
traditional healers can be brought officially onboard," she
An important lesson UNAIDS has learned in Uganda is that there
has to be a process through which the mutual suspicion between
western-trained doctors and traditional healers can be broken.
"Traditional healers are very willing to learn and they are
very willing to be partners providing there is an environment
of mutual respect," she added.