March 9, 2012
Ethiopia is slowly embracing antiretrovirals (ARVs) to treat HIV/AIDS, following years in which superstitious views of the disease dominated, and affected people often shunned drugs in favor of holy water as a curative.
In Ethiopia, Orthodox Christians represent the largest religious group. To them, holy water has the power to heal, and it is bathed in as well as ingested.
Johns Hopkins University in 2007 began supporting an HIV clinic near Entoto, where a spring produces water that church writings say can exorcise demons. When the clinic started integrating ARVs into holy water treatments, locals began accepting the pills, said Meg Doherty, an infectious-disease specialist at JHU who worked in the country from 2005 to 2010.
By the middle of 2007, the archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church called for concurrent use of ARVs and holy water, Standing next to the archbishop at that announcement was then-US Ambassador Donald Yamamoto, who said that religion and science could complement each other in Ethiopia.
The latest Ministry of Health data available show that in 2010, nearly 250,000 Ethiopians had started ARV therapy, up from 72,000 in February 2007. In 2010, the total number of AIDS-related deaths was 28,100, down from 71,900 three years earlier. The country has some 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS in a population of roughly 90 million.