Project: The African AIDS Pandemic

Superstitions abound, traditional healers often sought

by John Carr

Africa is a continent of where superstition and stories of ancestors still mold many beliefs in modern African society.

A current, well-known superstition about Africa among Westerners is the virgin cure to HIV/AIDS. The cure, prescribed by some traditional healers in Africa, entails having sex with a virgin to cure HIV/AIDS. From human nature alone, it is easily conceivable why this advice would flourish. Traditional healers, while meaning to do well, have often aided the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa.

Nurse Mugobi, a clinical nurse from a private clinic in northern Botswana, explained Botswana's extensive efforts in battling the superstitions.

"Africans are very superstitious people," said Mugobi. "When someone gets sick they do not think it is a virus or bug, they think someone has put a hex on them. People think their neighbor or someone they upset wished bad things upon them," she said. This thinking deters people from going to see the doctors.
She explained that it is customary to see a traditional healer if a medical conditions becomes serious. "They will go to see the traditional healer to get well and he will give them a cure." While the methods of traditional healers for some practices using herbs or animal products may alleviate some of the problems with some illnesses, the methods for HIV/AIDS treatment are worthless.

"I will give you an example. If you get sick and go to the healer," Nurse Mugobi said, "he will take some water and bless it and say, 'Drink this water and you will get better.'"

According to Mugobi, teaching and convincing traditional healers about HIV/AIDS including its transmission and side effects, was very challenging. "People would be very confused. They were taught one thing at school. Then, they go see a healer and they tell them something completely different," she said. "Then, they go to a clinic and a doctor tells them something completely different."

Fortunately, the Botswana Ministry of Health has responded. They haved helped organize teams to teach local populations including traditional healers about HIV/AIDS.

"We are very lucky," she said, “the leaders in the government have a lot of compassion and are very warm towards the people." In fact, Nurse Mugobi has previously worked for the government as part of her 18 years of being a nurse.

"Teams in local communities were organized to teach children, school teachers, healers and everyone else about AIDS." Getting healers to agree to teach the facts about HIV/AIDS was the most challenging endeavor she said." If people hear the same thing at school, from the traditional healer and from the doctors maybe they will begin to seek help."

Teams of housewives travel to local communities and teach about HIV/AIDS. They have not always been well received, but the efforts are paying off. "Last year, we had huge numbers of people coming into the clinic for help," said Mugobi. "It was amazing!"